Memorandum submitted by the Association
of Colleges (AoC) (OFS 10)
The emphasis in the inspection process
on the experience of the learner continues to be welcomed by colleges.
We welcome the recognition from inspection
findings that in excess of 90% of the teaching and learning inspected
in colleges is satisfactory or better.
We are pleased to note that several
of the concerns we expressed in our response to the select committee
in November 2001 have been addressed.
Many colleges report a generally
high level of satisfaction with the implementation of the Common
Inspection Framework and the conduct of the inspectorate, especially
where the inspection is led by an experienced team of inspectors.
Of major concern are the relatively
low inspection grades achieved by the majority of colleges with
a high disadvantage factor.
It is vital that further work is
done on developing a range of ways of measuring the value added
to a learner by the college and recognising a wider range of successful
The criteria for awarding unsatisfactory
grades for leadership and management need clarification.
There continues to be evidence of
overlap with the provider review process and confusion over the
use made of inspection findings in this process.
It remains a matter of concern that
the nominee is excluded from the grading meetings that take place
on a Thursday and Friday of inspection week.
There are shortages of inspectors
in certain curriculum areas, with the result that these areas
are not inspected in some colleges.
The inspection of school sixth forms
continues to be conducted using different criteria and by different
groups of inspectors, making true comparisons very difficult.
There needs to be increased clarity
that the purpose of inspection is to drive up quality.
The use of attainment as a criterion
for grading lessons continues to be a problem for colleges.
We request reassurance that there
will be a lighter touch inspection for colleges where there are
no major causes for concern.
1. The Association of Colleges is the representative
body for further education colleges in England and Wales established
by the colleges themselves to provide a voice for further education
at a national level. Some 98% of the 420 colleges in England and
Wales are members.
2. AoC has been analysing with much interest
the outcomes of the inspections that have taken place since April
2001. It has held meetings and conducted interviews with many
of these colleges and it has mounted several conferences to brief
the sector on the new regime. In addition it has prepared information
packs explaining the ethos and details of the processes of the
Common Inspection Framework and these have been greatly welcomed
by colleges. Inspection is seen by further education colleges
as an issue of great importance in driving up quality across the
3. AoC is pleased to be given the opportunity
to comment on the progress of the new regime and the work of the
inspectorate in its implementation.
4. The Common Inspection Framework emphasises
the experience of the individual learner in assessing the quality
of all provision. This continues to be welcomed by colleges and
has been helpful in supporting the sector in driving up standards.
5. The finding that despite a change in
emphasis of the inspection process, 90% of teaching is satisfactory
or better and that 65% is good or better, is a welcome confirmation
of the high quality of much teaching and learning in the sector.
In addition, we are pleased to note that recent LSC data confirm
substantial increases in both retention and achievement.
6. We are pleased to see that since the
last Select Committee meeting on the work of OFSTED, there have
been changes to several aspects that were highlighted by the AoC
in its last response. The large size of inspection teams was identified
as causing problems both for colleges in terms of servicing their
requirements and to the reporting inspector due to the difficulty
of co-ordinating the findings. The size of the teams has generally
now been reduced and the inspection period extended for large
colleges. The period of notice given has been extended. There
has been an increase in the reporting on adult work, previously
given unrepresentative coverage. Inspector CVs are now generally
available to colleges. There is now both an appeals system against
grading decisions and a complaints system for procedural issues.
We are pleased to note these developments and the fact that practice
has moved on in response to points made over the past 18 months.
7. Feedback received by the AoC from many
colleges reveals a generally high level of satisfaction with the
implementation of the Common Inspection Framework, its usefulness
as a tool to improve quality and the validity of the findings.
Inspections have worked particularly well where the team has consisted
largely of experienced inspectors with a good understanding of
the diverse nature of FE provision and students. In the most satisfactory
inspections, the team has been prepared to listen to and acknowledge
the college its when it has wished to clarify issues or bring
additional evidence to bear. Inspectors have almost unfailingly
been professional and courteous in their dealings with colleges.
The inspection handbook has been very useful in helping colleges
prepare for inspection
8. Recent inspection reports pay greater
tribute to the large contribution made by many colleges to widening
participation and combatting social exclusion. However, colleges
with a large proportion of disadavantaged students and ones whose
history of prior achievement when they arrive at the college is
poor, almost always receive poorer grades at inspection. We believe
there is inadequate recognition of the quality of the work of
colleges with students who find it more difficult to remain at
college and achieve a qualification. There is an over-reliance
on achievement of a qualification as an indicator of the success
and quality of a college. Retention and achievement of a qualification
are sometimes dependent on factors outside a college's control.
Many adults, for example, are not interested in a qualification
and may leave when they have acquired the knowledge or skill that
they need. Many leave because they have obtained employment. Some
leave because their employer withdraws sponsorship and others
experience financial or personal pressures which make it impossible
for them to continue at college. Colleges providing for these
categories of students need to have their work acknowledged and
praised by inspectors if they are not to be feel pressurised into
discontinuing this type of work and restricting their recruitment
to those students who are most likely to succeed.
9. At present value-added measures only
exist to measure the distance travelled by learners on a narrow
range of courses. Developing a wider range of value-added measures
will be of particular importance in ensuring, amongst others,
the success of 14-16 initiatives where colleges will be required
to work with many disaffected young people who are at risk of
dropping out of education or training. Achievement of a qualification
may not always be an appropriate outcome. For some learners at
risk of dropping out, for example, merely attending regularly
and acquiring employability and other social skills will be an
achievement in itself and this should be recognised by the inspection
10. There are indications that the criteria
for the grade awarded for leadership and management as described
in the inspectors' handbook are being inconsistently applied,
at times appearing to be related to the curriculum grades and
at other times not. This may relate to the depth of experience
of the inspectorate team and the reporting inspector in particular.
Because of the profound consequences of an unsatisfactory grade
for leadership and management, and its relationship to overall
judgements of inadequacy, it is clearly vital that criteria are
transparent and consistently applied.
11. There is confusion still over the respective
remits of the local LSCs and the inspectorates in the areas of
performance review and the approval of post-inspection action
12. In our view, it is most important in
terms of ensuring the accuracy of inspection findings that the
college nominee is present to represent the college's interests
at the final grading meetings. This used to be the case under
the FEFC. Although inspectors do their best to ensure that no
unexpected findings emerge at a late stage in the week, because
of the scope of the inspection and the size of the team, the nominee
needs to be present to challenge any inaccuracies with additional
evidence, especially at the crucial stages of final inspection
13. Where the Reporting Inspector is unable
to recruit an inspector with expertise in a particular subject,
that curriculum area will not be inspected. This occurs most frequently
in vocational and specialist areas such as Hairdressing and Sport.
This disadvantages general further education colleges which in
many cases will have excellent provision in these areas. It is
important that every effort is made to recruit sufficient appropriately
experienced inspectors for all curriculum areas.
14. We are concerned that colleges are still
subject to a different inspection process and a far more rigorous
and exhaustive inspection than school sixth forms. This is reflected
in the fact that the inspection report of a school sixth form
is only a few paragraphs long.
15. There is concern that in some colleges
a poor inspection has resulted in major changes in the senior
management. It is important that the findings of an inspection
are used as the basis for planning improvements and not seen necessarily
as a tool for restructuring.
16. The application of the criterion "attainment"
is still causing confusion in its use as applied to many courses
found in colleges. This requires inspectors to make judgements
on the standard of work of the group as a whole against a national
norm for students working at that particular level at that stage
of the year. This is a model that makes sense in schools where
the student group is relatively homogeneous but only in certain
courses in colleges. First, the members of a group, for example,
of basic skills students, may be at widely different stages and
working to their own individual learning plans. Secondly, this
system penalises colleges that admit students with more modest
prior achievements. Because attainment grades are no longer published,
colleges can no longer even see the effect these grades are having
on final lesson gradings. We believe that this criterion should
be discontinued in colleges.
17. Although colleges have found the OFSTED/ALI
inspections generally to be a driver for improvements in quality,
they have also found them to be costly and time-consuming. Beyond
a certain point the process becomes counter-productive as it diverts
colleges from the business of delivering a high quality service
to their students. A lighter touch inspection is therefore needed
for colleges with no major causes for concern.
18. The Association welcomes the opportunity
to build on the dialogue that has been built up with the two inspectorates.
It has been involved to date in a great deal of collaborative
work and is hopeful that this will continue. It has had meetings
with the two Chief Inspectors, mounted seven conferences to update
the sector on the requirements of the new framework and the findings
of inspections. It has held nominee briefing events and basic
skills training events in collaboration with OFSTED and sees all
of these as valuable ways of progressing issues of common concern.