Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Colleges (AoC)


  AoC (the Association of Colleges) is the representative body for colleges of further education, including general FE colleges, sixth form colleges and specialist colleges in England, Wales (through our association with fforwm) and Northern Ireland (through our association with ANIC). AoC was established in 1996 by the colleges themselves to provide a voice for further education at national and regional levels. Some 98% of the 400-plus general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and specialist colleges in the three countries are in membership. These colleges are the largest providers of post-16 general and vocational education and training in the UK. They serve over four million of the six million learners participating in post-statutory education and training, offering lifelong learning opportunities for school leavers and adults over a vast range of academic and vocational qualifications. Levels of study range from the basic skills needed to remedy disadvantage, through to professional qualifications and higher education degrees.

  The key role played by the sector and its 250,000 staff in raising the level of skills and competitiveness of the nation's workforce makes colleges central to the Government's national and regional agenda for economic prosperity and social inclusion. AoC services to member college corporations include information, professional development and support in all aspects of institutional management, governance, curriculum development, quality, employment, business development and funding. AoC also works in close partnership with the Government and all other key national and regional agencies to assist policy development, continuously to improve quality and to secure the best possible provision for post-16 education and training.


    —  AoC believes that bringing together all aspects of children's services work under one inspectorate will help to ensure the safety and well-being of young people.

    —  We believe there would be advantages in a single inspectorate, namely:

      —  Greater consistency in the delivery and outcomes of inspection.

      —  Increased pressure to ensure comparability in the use of data and definition of success, especially between school sixth forms and the rest of the post-16 sector.

      —  Possibly enhancing the profile of vocational learning.

      —  Offering the possibility of savings which could be transferred to the front line.

    —  However, we have reservations about including the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) in the statutory remit of an enlarged Ofsted.

    —  We would like reassurance that specific support features of ALI which were helpful to improving the quality of provision in colleges will be replicated in some form.

    —  We are concerned that the post-16 expertise of ALI, particularly of adult and work-based learning, would be lost in an enlarged new Ofsted and that this section of Ofsted would not be accorded sufficient status within an organisation largely devoted to a children's and young people's agenda.

    —  We are concerned that the shortage of appropriately qualified and experienced inspectors may be exacerbated with the demise of ALI and seek reassurance that Nord Anglia has the capacity to deliver inspections of adult and work-based learning.

  1.  The Government is committed to bringing the children's services work of the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) into Ofsted, together with the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) inspection remit of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA) to create a single inspectorate for children and learners. They are consulting as well on whether the current statutory remit of the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) should be included in these arrangements.

  2.  In general terms, AoC supports the proposal to merge into Ofsted those inspectorates which have a particular remit for inspecting services for children: the children's services work of the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Services inspection remit of HMI of Court Administration. This would appear to improve the prospects of integration and a "joined-up" approach that should help to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people.

  3.  However, the inclusion of the statutory remit of the ALI in the Ofsted inspectorate does not have such clear-cut advantages and we would wish to see a thorough examination of all the issues before a decision is made. We would wish to stress the importance of such an examination since it appears from the consultation document that the move to a single inspectorate is signalled as the Government's firm intention.

  4.  AoC believes that there could be benefits to be gained in terms of quality improvement from the merger of a children's and young people's inspectorate with one designed for adult and work-based, prison education, Jobcentre Plus and learndirect provision. However, there are several critical factors that need to be considered if this proposal is to bring about a new inspectorate that effectively serves the needs of the whole of the education and training sector.

  5.  The positive benefits that a single inspectorate could bring are that it could:

    —  support the tighter statutory regulation of child protection and schools through a single statutory regulatory body for the inspection of childcare, child protection, schools and the 16-19 aspects of further education colleges. However, there is a debate over its capacity to regulate adult skills effectively;

    —  ensure greater consistency in the delivery and outcomes of inspections. Ofsted and ALI are increasingly divergent in their interpretation of and approach to inspection, for example in the greater period of notice allowed in the new arrangements for ALI sole-remit inspections. However, this could only occur where the methodology and data from which conclusions are drawn are consistent. This is still not currently the case, particularly between school sixth forms and other post-16 learning;

    —  reflect more coherently the lifelong learning agenda of colleges and the wide age-range of their learners. The majority of colleges provide for both 16-19 and adult learners. Similarly, many schools and sixth-form colleges also provide learning for adults;

    —  bring vocational learning more into the mainstream. Ensuring that adult and vocational learning are inspected and reported on by the same inspectorate may increase their profile and visibility; and

    —  offer the opportunity for savings which could be transferred to the front line of delivery.


  6.  In attempting to rationalise inspectorates, it is important that the very specific remits of individual inspectorates are not diluted or require extensive and bureaucratic cross-referencing. In particular, if ALI were to be absorbed into Ofsted, it would be vital that the focus on post-16 (and especially post-19) learners was not lost or subsumed by the greater emphasis on children. The "adult" remit of a new Ofsted would represent less than a tenth of its child protection and school inspection work. It is vital that the post-16 unit is accorded due status and prominence within the organisation.

  7.  It would be vital that the specific expertise contained within the ALI was replicated within a new inspectorate. ALI have experience of adult and vocational learning that is not contained within Ofsted. Many colleges feel that the ALI members of the inspection team show greater understanding of the issues faced by general FE colleges than do Ofsted.

  8.  With the announcement of the contracting of Nord Anglia for the delivery of inspections, AoC already has particular concerns about ensuring the consistency and quality of inspection teams in the future. We would seek re-assurance about Nord Anglia's capacity to deliver inspections of adult and work-based learning.

  9.  It has already proved difficult on many occasions to find appropriately experienced inspectors for some vocational areas. Merging Ofsted and ALI may exacerbate this position. It would be vital that existing inspectors in these areas are retained.

  10.  ALI is committed to a direct quality improvement and support function through the provision of specialised help for providers and referral to good practice through Excalibur and the Provider Development Unit. However, the new Ofsted would be a government department whose sole function would be statutory regulation. It is important, particularly for weak providers, many of whom are in the work-based learning and adult and community sectors, that they do not lose this important facility and access to informed support for improvement, even if it is not provided by the inspection body.

  11.  The articulation of the ALI specialist support function with the new QIA needs to be considered. One way in which this could be delivered is as part of the delivery arm of the new agency.

  12.  The proposed new Ofsted will cover only further education and adult learning funded by the Department for Education and Skills. It will not include higher education, or other areas of work currently undertaken by ALI, ie:

  (a)  That commissioned by other government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence, in the training of adults.

  (b)  Private sector voluntary commissions for inspection.

  13.  It is important in any new regulatory body that there is as great a degree of comparability with the QAA methodology as feasible. If there were to be a single inspectorate, it would present a good opportunity for developing this complementarity further.

  14.  A change in Ofsted's governance is suggested in the consultation. Currently Ofsted's Chief Inspector is not accountable to a board providing direction and guidance. It is highly desirable that there is a separation of the executive and strategic functions which would accord with the principles of good governance practice in both public and private sectors. A non-executive chair and board would, it is hoped, address some of the issues over which the Select Committee has in the past shown concern.

October 2005

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 16 February 2006