Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Association of Colleges (NHMCI 05)

  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 per cent of the 420 colleges in England and Wales are members.

  The Association has been analysing with much interest the emerging outcomes of the inspections that have taken place since April 2001 when OFSTED assumed responsibility for inspecting further education colleges. It has held meetings and conducted interviews with the majority of these colleges and it has mounted three conferences to brief the sector on the new regime. In addition it has prepared several information packs explaining the ethos and details of the processes of the OFSTED/ALI inspection framework and these have been greatly welcomed by colleges.


The process of appointing the new HMCI

    —  It is most important that the new HMCI has a good understanding of the whole range of provision post-16, especially of the further education sector

    —  The process of appointment must be open and transparent

The future role of OFSTED

    —  Consideration should be given to creating a single inspection body for all post-14 providers to ensure comparability across the sectors

    —  Colleges must be made to feel that their efforts to increase participation among the most disadvantaged groups are valued and encouraged

    —  There must be an increased focus on adult provision and work at entry level and levels one and two in colleges where this forms a substantial part of the provision

    —   The current focus on the learner must be retained

    —  Ways of reducing the pressures and information demands of inspection must be found

    —  Self assessment must be seen as the way forward in terms of driving up standards

    —  After the first round of inspections, the scale of the operation must be reduced and a system of "lighter touch" inspection developed for those colleges which have been shown to have good provision

    —  Consideration must be given as to the most appropriate method of providing on-going monitoring and support such as used to be provided by HMI

    —  The college inspector role should be re-introduced

    —  OFSTED should be a model of transparency. The FEFC system of providing CVs of individual inspectors should be re-introduced and colleges should have the right to challenge judgements


The process of appointing the new HMCI

  1.  It is most important that the new HMCI has a good understanding of the whole range of provision post-16, especially of the further education sector which is responsible for the delivery of education and training to four million learners. As further education is an area of provision that has only recently come under the aegis of OFSTED, we would urge most strongly that the selection criteria for the post of HMCI insists on a thorough understanding of colleges and their distinctive mission, which is a very different one from that of schools. This will become increasingly important in the light of the proposals in the Green Paper that greater numbers of fourteen-year-old students receive some of their education or training within an FE college.

  2.  It is important that the process of appointment is transparent and open in the following ways: that the advertisements are widely published and the selection criteria agreed by a wide cross-section of interested parties.

The future role of OFSTED

  3.  In order to allow comparisons to be made between all providers of post -16 education and training, it is our belief that consideration should be given to the creation of a single body responsible for the inspection of all providers. Inspections of 14-18 education and training must allow like-for-like comparisons in terms of quality and value for money to be made between colleges, school sixth forms, adult and community learning institutions and work-based training providers. All these organisations are or will be funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). There are already proposals to give OFSTED the powers to inspect all provision except for adult education institutions across a local LSC area during the course of area inspections. A single inspectorate will clearly need to have the combined experience of the two existing inspectorates.

  4.  At present, OFSTED and the Adult Learning Inspectorate work together as part of a joint team led by OFSTED in the inspection of colleges which contain both 16-19 and adult students. This is the case in the vast majority of colleges. We believe that a review should be conducted of the effect of having two inspectorates both working to the criteria contained in the Common Inspection Framework but bringing with them different experiences in terms of the contexts in which they interpret the framework.

  5.  Post-16 provision in school sixth forms, although inspected by OFSTED, is currently undertaken using different criteria and inspectors trained and used solely for this purpose. This clearly makes valid comparisons between the school sixth forms and other providers impossible.

  6.  The proposals contained in the Green Paper on 14-19 suggest that further consideration should be given to the need for a single inspection body as learning will take place based in both the school, college and work-based sectors. As there will be a greater degree of collaboration between schools and colleges than exists at present, it will be important that OFSTED inspectors are made fully aware of the issues surrounding such partnership working. Proposals have already been made to extend the remit of area-wide inspections to include all provision for 14-19 year-olds, increasing the remit of these inspections from coverage of provision solely to 16-19 year-olds to include younger students receiving education or training in schools, colleges, in the work-place or in any combination of these institutions. The implications of this need further consideration.

  7.  The role of OFSTED must be to support and encourage practice that leads to the delivery of the central planks of the government's agenda. OFSTED must increase its focus on adult provision to ensure that colleges' success in working with post-19 students is encouraged and leads to the workforce development and improvements in basic skills required by the government. OFSTED-led inspections in colleges have focused disproportionately on the 16-18 cohort, and not reflected accurately the amount of post-19 work, even when the vast majority of students is aged 19+. This clearly disadvantages some colleges whose chief strength lies in their provision for adult students. Many general further education colleges have in excess of 80 per cent 19+ students.

  8.  Similarly, if the sector is to be encouraged to deliver the improvements necessary in the skill and qualification levels of young people, it will need OFSTED to encourage in every way colleges' delivery of education and training to the socially excluded and its efforts to reach those not in education, employment or training. Many of these students possess few or poor qualifications and lack basic skills and engage in learning at level one or two. Lesson observations to date have tended in most colleges to focus on level three work and to give considerably less attention to entry level work and work at levels one and two. As with the work with adults, many colleges have particular strengths in provision at the lower levels. As these levels are key in meeting the government's widening participation agenda, it is vital that inspections recognise where good work is occurring, recognise the difficulties inherent in this type of provision and accord it its full value.

  9.  We greatly welcome the overriding focus of the Common Inspection Framework on the experience of the individual learner and see this focus as key. We particularly welcome the emphasis on the experience of the learner in the classroom or workshop, the quality of the guidance and support received and the quality of the management of the learning programme. We are pleased that OFSTED sees its role as making judgements on a range of cross-college aspects through assessing their effects on the learner and we would wish this to continue.

  10.  We question whether OFSTED's role in the future should involve such exhaustive scrutiny of colleges where high quality has already clearly been demonstrated. The inspection process has become such a large operation, often requiring inspection teams of up to forty inspecting every curriculum area, that colleges are finding that instead of driving up the quality of provision, it is having the reverse effect, diverting the energy and attention of staff from the business of providing for the needs of the learner to service the vast demands in terms of data and accommodation made by such large teams. The inspection and audit burden in colleges is widely considered to be excessive and it is important that colleges are allowed a greater element of control over ensuring the delivery of quality improvements once they have proved that they are capable of managing this process for themselves.

  11.  The role of OFSTED should be increasingly one that validates a college's own self assessment procedures and monitors improvements identified in its development plan, as still happens in Wales. Colleges have shown that they have mature and effective quality assurance procedures that lead to real improvements for the learner. OFSTED should in the future assure itself that these procedures are working effectively and that standards are rising but without itself being involved in the scrutiny through the inspection process of the whole range of provision as is the case at present.

  12.  In the light of the experience of the first round of the OFSTED inspection process, it is important that there is a lighter inspection process in subsequent rounds for those that have shown they are providing a high quality learning experience within well led and managed colleges. We are pleased to note that OFSTED has already indicated its intention to move towards this system.

  13.  Consideration must be given as to the most appropriate method of providing on-going monitoring and support to providers, such as used to be provided by HMI. Consideration should be given to the role that OFSTED might play in the future in providing this support and in helping providers to sustain improvements between inspections. Colleges would welcome, for example, in the period between inspections feedback which included an element of guidance on good practice drawn from inspectors' national perspective and experience.

  14.  As part of this remit for providing additional support, colleges would welcome the re-introduction from within the ranks of OFSTED of the role of college inspector. This role, utilised by the FEFC, allocated an inspector to each college whose role it was to act as a critical friend, offering advice and guidance on policy and practice and monitoring the overall achievement of objectives.

  15.  OFSTED's work must be open and transparent in every way. Colleges cannot now challenge inspection judgements as they could under the appeals procedure of the FEFC. It is most important that there is such a system to allow for transparency of judgements and the rights of the college to defend its reputation against perceived unjust grading decisions.

  16.  Colleges were reassured in the past about the experience of the inspectors by the provision of brief CVs of each member of the inspection team. This no longer happens in the new regime and colleges would welcome the provision once again of these pen portraits

Association of Colleges

April 2002


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