Ofsted released its annual report yesterday, showing more FE colleges are achieving ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ as well as a continued improvement in the delivery of skills by independent training providers.
However, the Chief Inspector also called for greater engagement with employers, particularly with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The following is a selection of comments from industry leaders on the Further Education aspects of the report:
Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group colleges association, said: “It is good to see the continued improvement of teaching, learning and assessment in FE colleges. Ofsted’s report shows that 79 per cent of general further education colleges are now good or outstanding – an improvement on last year’s figure, which demonstrates the hard work and commitment of college leaders, teachers and staff to providing high-quality education.
“The fact that the majority of colleges are now good or outstanding, as the report points out, reflects improvement right across colleges, with governors and leaders playing a key role. It is absolutely right that the report highlights the importance of increased attention to staff development as a factor driving college improvement. A world-class skills system can be built only on the skills of its teachers.
“It is particularly welcome that Ofsted has acknowledged the importance of partnerships and the need for local solutions in driving continued improvement and the threat of competition between institutions to that improvement. Many colleges are already taking the lead in establishing partnerships at the local level and we are working with our members to ensure that collaboration continues to be seen as the best route to success.”
Sarah Robinson OBE, chair of the 157 Group and principal of Stoke on Trent College, said: “The range of challenges facing colleges, as presented in the report, reflects the pace of change over this parliament and the growing recognition that the FE sector is crucial in meeting the economic challenges the country faces. All colleges are working hard to improve performance in English and maths; to be ever more responsive to the needs of employers and the local economy; and to ensure that young people, in particular, are placed on challenging study programmes that will enable them to achieve their potential. The fact that they are doing this in the face of significant cuts to public funding should not be overlooked.
“Ofsted has acknowledged the breadth of the challenges – what we now need in colleges is policy stability, so that we can focus on those areas where we know that further improvements can be made.”
Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “Ofsted recognises that changes to government programmes sometimes affect the quality of delivery and in the case of Apprenticeships, a period of stability is needed to continue the drive for improvement.”
On Traineeships, he said: “We are pleased that Ofsted has recognised that attendance and retention on Traineeships was much better than on previous pre-Apprenticeship programmes and AELP would argue that a major reason for this was that providers had a much greater input into the new programme’s design.”
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “Colleges have being working hard to drive and maintain high standards and student provision against a background of funding cuts and qualification reforms. The fact that more and more further education colleges are achieving good or outstanding Ofsted reports reflects their on-going commitment to their students and the local community.”
On working with employers, he said: “As the need for higher technical, professional and vocational education continues to increase at pace colleges are already working with an average of 600 businesses each in their local area but they are keen to do more. But this must be recognised as a two-way street with employers being fully engaged in working with colleges to create meaningful qualifications relevant for the future job market.”
On English and maths: “Colleges have also seen significant Government reforms to maths and English GCSEs and we firmly believe that colleges should be given the tools to enable them to build the capacity to meet this new challenge. Whilst the main responsibility for ensuring that young people achieve good maths and English qualifications must remain with schools the next Government should develop new English and maths qualifications that are rigorous and related to the world of work for those aged over 16.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “The sooner the Government and the chief inspector realise Ofsted’s mode of working is part of the problem, not part of the solution, the better. Constant belittlement of schools and teachers working in them does no good. Michael Wilshaw’s view that there are too many weak head teachers can be no surprise to him when day-by-day he makes the profession seem as unattractive as possible – governed by faddish inspection with the high stakes to rival football managers’ job security. Parents and pupils deserve better stability in their local schools and reliable programmes of inspection and improvement.
“Ofsted has failed to address its longstanding problem of quality assurance. Its inspections are inconsistent and include non-expert inspectors making judgements about subjects or age groups they’ve never taught. The current process disempowers teachers and leaders and increases stress. Pointless paperwork puts pupil achievement at risk, leaving this form of inspection incompatible with an education system of self-improving schools.
“There are a number of possible explanations for lower grades being awarded to secondary schools compared to last year. Despite what the inspectorate says, this doesn’t necessarily mean standards of education are dropping. Ofsted inspected a greater proportion of weaker schools this time – and secondary schools have been managing unprecedented levels of change, including qualification and examination reform and the removal of vocational qualifications from league tables. The criticisms the chief inspector makes, for example on misbehaviour, have been made before – he has questions to answer then about how exactly Ofsted inspections are making schools better.
“Schools should be held to account. However, are parents better served by being told schools are awful, or by effective systems that accurately identify strengths and weaknesses, foster cross-school collaboration and support sustainable improvement? The chief inspector’s comments put him fairly in the former camp. ATL believes the latter best serves the nation’s children. The time has come for an end to Ofsted’s national inspection regime which should be replaced by local systems of inspection and improvement focused on a proper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the local area.”
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