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FE Colleges and Adult Learning offered cautious praise but still could do better.

“FE colleges on the rise in Ofsted’s annual report

Further education colleges continued to improve this year according to Ofsted. In their annual report on education, children’s services and skills, Ofsted offered FE colleges cautious praise while pointing out there were still improvements to be made.

The chief inspector’s report found that FE colleges continued to improve in 2006-07. Of 100 colleges inspected, 17 per cent were found to be outstanding and 44 per cent were found to be good. Only 3 per cent were marked as inadequate, down from 8 per cent last year.

Ofsted reported that overall success rates increased on both long and short courses. Pass rates and retention improved at broadly the same rate and improvements are evident across all types of college and all main levels of learning.

However, Ofsted also noted that the proportion of colleges marked as only satisfactory, 35 per cent, was still too high. They said that almost three-quarters of colleges in the category were marked satisfactory in their last inspection and are not improving.

“Coasting at satisfactory is not acceptable”, said chief schools inspector Christine Gilbert, “all should aspire to be good or outstanding”.

The report found that insufficient self-assessment and quality assurance procedures were the most common barriers to improvement in satisfactory colleges. Too little use of data and a failure to set sufficiently challenging targets were also major weaknesses.

Maggie Scott, Association of Colleges Director of Learning and Quality, said: “The continuing improvement in the quality of college provision, with 97% judged satisfactory, good or outstanding in the last inspection round, comes as no surprise. It is a reflection of the determined efforts of college managers and staff across the sector.

“Colleges are essential partners for Ofsted and Government if they wish to realise their ambitions in supporting disadvantaged young people; many colleges specialise in attracting disaffected young people back into education; the overwhelming majority of young people receiving an EMA study in college; just under one third of 16 to 18-year-olds in colleges are from the 15% most deprived wards in England – compared with 9.5% of 16 to 18 year olds in maintained school sixth forms.”

Ofsted revealed that adult learning also improved in the past year, but that it still had significant challenges ahead, including raising success rates.

The report commended the adult skills sector for engaging with employers and widening opportunities for learners.

Commenting on the report, Barry Lovejoy, the head of further education at the University and College Union said that the government needed to consider better funding for the sector.

“The quality of college provision continues to improve and this is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of teaching and other staff. Lecturers make a difference to peoples lives. It is about time the government established sufficient funding for the sector, to ensure that professionalism is properly rewarded and our members receive parity with school teachers,” said Mr Lovejoy.

Though the report had words of praise for many, Ofsted warned of a bleak future for young people stricken by poverty. They found that young people living in the most deprived areas do worst in exams and are less likely to go on to further education.

Ofsted discovered that children who are eligible for free school meals while in school are more unlikely to not be in employment, education or training when they reach adulthood.

“There remains much to be done if the workforce if this country is to be equipped to compete successfully in the global economy of the 21st century. It cannot be right that over 10% of 16-18 year olds, young people on the cusp of adult life are not in education, employment or training. That’s over 200,000 16 to 18 year olds out of education but without a foot in the world of work,” said Ms Gilbert.

“We need to learn from what works and be relentless in using inspection to drive improvement and to reform settings – be they child care, day centres, children’s homes, schools, colleges or work-based learning – where outcomes simply are not good enough”.

Matthew Sharp

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