From education to employment

FE sector responds to Ofsted’s annual report

Below is selection of comments from the FE sector on Ofsted’s annual report, which was published on 27 November 2012.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “This annual report from Ofsted is clear that 65% of colleges, serving some 2.5 million students, are good or outstanding which, in the face of a challenging inspection framework, and the need to make efficiencies in the face of constrained  funding is a solid achievement.

“The annual report no longer represents a ‘state of the nation’ view of provision, but rather a snapshot of inspections that are now triggered by a risk-based approach. By definition this is skewed towards more negative results. Despite this approach, it is heartening to see that of the 56 colleges inspected in the last round, 27 had improved or maintained their previous grade for overall effectiveness.

“Colleges do deliver the skills employers want and to criticise some for their range of provision risks missing several points: the interests and ambitions of students play a significant role in the choices they make; those choices are often determined by school information and guidance; the subjects people study are not the sole indicator of career path – we don’t expect young people who have undertaken a GCSE in Geography to go on and have a career in geography.

“Moreover, some 220,000 unemployed people undertake education and training in colleges and 74% of employers see 17 to 18-year-old college leavers as better prepared for work that school leavers of the same age (66%).”

“But, there are, without doubt, difficult messages in the annual report this year. Every AoC college is committed to doing the best it can for its students and is committed to achieving continuous improvement. Colleges are delivering what government has asked of them and we are interested to discuss how College performance might be better reflected in a wider basket of measures.  But if the goalposts are being shifted by Ofsted, we at least need to know the rules of the new game.

“A fair and transparent inspection regime makes an important contribution to this process. I continue to be concerned that there is too little data in inspection reports to provide this transparency, or the information that is required by colleges, parents, employers and potential students. We have further concerns about the relevant experience of some Ofsted inspectors and that the inspections do not give a true reflection of the whole of a college’s provision.

“Colleges which have been inspected must be able to see themselves in the mirror of an Ofsted report and respect its judgements; in this way they can learn from the inspection regime which, we must remember, should be constructed to drive improvement.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group college association, said: “We welcome the strong focus in the report, and in the new Common Inspection Framework, on the quality of teaching and learning. This reflects the high priority that we have also given to this area, both through the 157 Group membership networks of peer support and by organising national events involving members and non-members, which have focused on the conditions for bringing about improvement in teaching and learning.

“Ofsted is right to highlight that more needs to be done to ensure the quality of teaching and learning is outstanding for everyone and to raise standards. Leadership and management is of crucial importance in securing teaching and learning improvement, and we are working with the Leadership Exchange to ensure a focus on improvement continues. We have also developed, with the Gazelle Group, a leadership programme to enable colleges to focus on entrepreneurial skill.”

Marilyn Hawkins, chair of the 157 Group, said: “The rise in numbers of colleges judged inadequate is undoubtedly due in part to the fact that Ofsted inspection is focused on those deemed to be most at risk. Where performance has deteriorated, then we are as keen as Ofsted to do what we can to ensure it can improve again through a clear focus on teaching and learning standards. The figure does also reflect, though, the fact that the work of colleges is immensely broad and cannot all be judged in a simple fashion.

“We therefore welcome the view that the success of a college needs to be measured in broader terms than by success rates on qualifications alone. We know from our constructive discussions with Ofsted that there is an understanding of the broad nature of colleges’ missions. The need to ensure that learners develop employability skills to meet the needs of employers is a key area, but one which is hard to gauge through looking at success rates alone.”

Sedgmore added: “Ofsted’s annual report is challenging to the sector, but it is helpful in highlighting both areas of success and areas in need of improvement. That the report sets out to establish a political context in which FE can find a centre stage position is welcome if it brings the good work of many colleges to the attention of those who have the greatest influence on policy development.”

Stephen Twigg MP, Labour‘s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Today’s report shows the results of Labour’s education reforms – including academies and better school leadership. There are half a million more children in good or better schools compared thanks to over a decade of investment and reform.

“However, there remains an arc of underachievement which is holding back too many young people. Even in David Cameron’s backyard of Oxfordshire, there are too many coasting schools. We need to learn from success stories like Wigan and Darlington to understand why other areas are less successful.

“While Michael Gove is only interested in helping some types of schools, Labour want to ensure no school is left behind. That means strong schools working with weaker ones – as happened with Labour’s London Challenge.

“We need more and better teachers and headteachers but under Cameron’s watch 10,000 teachers have quit.

“This report shows problems still exist in the FE sector. Not enough colleges are doing well enough, and the incentive system needs to improve to ensure young people are ready for the modern economy.

“While Michael Gove ignores further education, Labour is calling for a gold standard qualification for young people to aim for – the Technical Baccalaureate. That means every young person studying English and Maths until 18 alongside more rigorous vocational courses, higher apprenticeships and a quality work experience placement.”

Penny Lamb, head of policy development at NIACE, said: “There is much for the sector to reflect on in this report. Local accountability, governance, quality and relevance are issues of prime importance to all providers as they negotiate the changing world of skills and employment on behalf of their learners.  Concerted action is needed now as there are far too many adults not getting the quality provision they deserve. Providers need the flexibility to respond to what learners both need and want; and Government must ensure that the right incentives and funding systems are in place to support good and outstanding learning.

“NIACE agrees with the approach that judging providers on their success rates alone is poor proxy for the attainment of real skills that are valued by employers.  We also agree that sustained employment is a key outcome and hope recent announcements on the links between the employment and skills systems will support our members in this.  We would further state that the value of adult learning is shown as wider outcomes are important for communities, to improve health and civic engagement, alongside employment outcomes. We call for inspection practice to embed this approach.”

Joyce Black, head of life skills at NIACE, said: “We support the priority of English and Maths and welcome the focus for embedded learning and applying functional skills in order that learners retain and use their skills, rather than just teaching to the test. The need for initial teacher training and ongoing CPD is critical for all staff to make this a reality.

“NIACE calls for the funding system to enable providers to take a flexible and learner needs driven approach for those at the lowest level where functional skills and employability are not necessarily the starting point.”

Rob Wye, chief executive of LSIS, said: “Six months ago we affirmed LSIS’s three priorities for the Further Education and Skills sector; these clearly align to the areas for improvement highlighted in the Chief Inspector’s report.

“In England 74% of FE and skills providers have benefitted from our services, as have all offender learning providers and 75% of English prisons. We remain loyal to pursuing our commitments and building on the successes of work we have already conducted with the sector.”

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), said: “IfL wholeheartedly agrees with Sir Michael Wilshaw when he states in his report, published today, that ‘teaching, at its best, is the most noble and honourable profession’. We agree too that ‘the best leaders focus on the leadership of teaching and learning’ and ‘promote professional development as an ongoing preoccupation’. We also share the chief inspector’s concerns about the numbers of providers being judged good or outstanding for teaching and learning, and are committed to working with teachers and trainers, leaders and sector partners to facilitate improvements.

“The best leaders and teachers and trainers work together. As the professional body for practitioners in the FE and skills sector, we regularly see examples of brilliant teaching and learning, pockets of excellence. IfL’s role is to encourage and facilitate teacher-to-teacher communications about seeking, learning from and adapting the best practice in England and around the world. We draw on the best international research about excellence in teaching – including the renowned work of Professors John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam – and shares findings with members.

“We also support members to take ownership of their own professional practice and are currently working with leading academics from the universities of Oxford and Cardiff on a new action research programme for teachers and trainers. We argue too, sometimes against a tide, that high-quality and substantial initial teacher education is vital for practitioners and the sector.

“No education system can be better than the quality of its teachers. We are keen to see more freedoms for teachers and believe that they should be supported to focus on improvement and on the best outcomes for their learners, rather than being burdened with paperwork and additional responsibilities. Our evidence shows that many IfL members will agree with Ofsted’s comments about the need for more opportunities for teachers to update their specialist vocational knowledge, and we hope that the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning will offer recommendations on this area in the New Year.”

Asha Khemka, chair of the Leadership Exchange group that is being developed alongside the FE Guild, said: “Part of being an autonomous and mature sector is recognising that not everything is perfect.  While the report doesn’t make comfortable reading, we must take the findings seriously and examine what we can do to ensure consistently high standards across all aspects of the sector.

“Sir Michael acknowledges that leadership is very strong in outstanding providers.  We need to ensure those qualities of outstanding leadership are shared across all aspects of the education and skills landscape.”

Khemka added: “We are at a crucial point for the learning and skills sector – the scale and pace of change is staggering.  The development of initiatives such as the Leadership Exchange and the FE Guild will address some of the fundamental issues raised by Sir Michael.  Over the coming months I encourage the sector to engage with us to inspire the dynamic, world-class leadership needed to deliver prosperity, jobs and opportunities for our young people, adults and businesses.”

Natalie Thornhill

Related Articles