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


Memorandum from the Association of Colleges (SQ07)

  The Association of Colleges is the representative body for further education and sixth form 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, as well as over 50 specialist colleges.

  AoC has analysed with much interest the emerging outcomes of the inspections that have taken place since April 2001 and reported its views to the Committee before Christmas. AoC has held meetings and conducted interviews with the majority of colleges that have been inspected, mounted three conferences and prepared several information packs to brief the sector on the new regime.

  In this submission, we comment specifically on those sections of the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, Standards and Quality in Education, which have a direct bearing on the work of colleges.


    —  The performance of colleges is totally misrepresented by basing the report findings on the first five colleges to be inspected. These are unrepresentative both of the total of 420 colleges and also of the subsequent 18 colleges inspected under OFSTED. Many invalid inferences are drawn in the report as a result.

    —  In the subsequent 18 college inspections, leadership and management were judged to be unsatisfactory in only two colleges. Only 8.75 per cent of teaching and learning was judged unsatisfactory.

    —  The comparison of point scores for students taking A Levels or equivalents in school sixth forms and general further education colleges is invidious for several reasons.

    —  Valid comparisons of colleges with school sixth forms are still impossible to make in other areas such as management and quality assurance as sixth forms are still not subject to the same inspection rigour as colleges. In addition, reliable data on school sixth form attainment is not readily available.

    —  The comparison in terms of value for money between school sixth forms and colleges could legitimately be made but is not. School sixth form pupils receive an average of £1,000 more funding per head than college students.

    —  We endorse the finding from area-wide inspections that school pupils are not always fully informed about alternatives to school sixth forms and support measures to ensure improvements in this area in the future.

    —  There is no nationally recognised value-added scheme for measuring the distance travelled by learners following many of the programmes on offer in a college. This leads to an under-valuing of much of the work done by colleges.

    —  Colleges are urged to make greater use of quality assurance processes. In fact they possess rigorous and effective self assessment systems which lead to improvement, as well as a myriad other quality assurance systems.

    —  Colleges are keen to ensure the coherence of the post-16 offer across an area and can show many examples of their contribution through collaboration.


  1.  AoC objects most strongly to the use in the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of the inspection evidence of the first five colleges to be inspected by OFSTED under the Common Inspection Framework. Despite the report's own assertion that this sample is both tiny and unrepresentative, it draws inferences that are not only invalid but potentially damaging to the reputation of the further education sector.

  2.  In the 18 colleges inspected in the autumn term following the first five inspections, only two colleges were found to have unsatisfactory leadership and management. Of these 18 colleges, leadership and management was judged to be satisfactory or better in 89 per cent. This compares with 95 per cent in secondary schools and only 12 per cent in the work-based training sector. Although eighteen colleges are still a small sample of the 420 further education colleges in England, we believe that they give a much more accurate picture of the quality of leadership and management in colleges. One of the key findings from the last year of the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) inspections was that only 5 per cent of institutions were judged to have unsatisfactory management in 2000-01 compared with 11 per cent in 1999-2000.

  3.  In the subsequent inspections of 18 colleges, an average of 8.75 per cent of teaching and learning for 16-18 year-olds was judged to be unsatisfactory. Whilst this certainly gives no grounds for complacency, this figure is far removed from the one in five unsatisfactory lessons, or 20 per cent, observed in the first five inspections and quoted in the report.

  4.  Other statistically meaningless conclusions are reached through basing the findings on an unrepresentative sample. For example, none of the bullet-pointed weaknesses described as most frequently observed in lessons was actually observed in more than two colleges of the five. This analysis is clearly invalid.

  5.  The Department for Education and Skills, as a result of AoC's lobbying efforts, has recognised that disaggregated data have distorted the reporting of the results of further education colleges for this year. The inclusion of single AS/A level results in single vocational awards taken by learners as additional and broadening elements of their course, has had a significant negative effect on both vocational and A Level columns of the League Tables this year. The disaggregated scores are depressing college performance by 3-4 points. In addition, BTEC National results are not included in the point score. It is a matter of great concern to the sector that their considerable achievement in delivering Curriculum 2000 should be distorted in such a way that it implies that they are not performing as well as in the past and more generally that League Tables are being used as a measure of the quality of provision, given their DfES-recognised inadequacies.

  6.  Most further education colleges feel that it is an important part of their mission to recruit those students at 16 who have not performed well at school and who might otherwise be in danger of dropping out of education or training. Some, in fact, are actually excluded from schools and taken on by colleges. These students come to colleges with low point scores, although in many cases they leave with a qualification. Average points scores at exit, such as are shown in the report, give no indication of these low point scores on entry to colleges and, in not comparing like with like, fail to recognise or applaud the value that colleges add to these students and the contribution that colleges make to the widening participation agenda. Raw point scores or a comparison of the retention rates in schools and colleges simply fail to recognise the sometimes difficult work that colleges undertake in addressing the failings of the school system and in helping such young people to continue in learning and to achieve.

  7.  Although it is intended that in time school sixth forms will be inspected using the same framework and criteria as colleges in order to facilitate comparisons, at this stage this is not occurring. The management of a school sixth form and a large college, for example, is not comparable. School sixth forms are not subjected to anything like the same degree of rigour during inspection as is a college and so to attempt to compare the outcomes of very different processes would seem to be pointless.

  8.  However, in the one area where at present it is possible to make valid comparisons between school sixth forms and colleges is in terms of their relative funding and value for money, there are no comparisons made. School sixth forms receive £1,000 more per pupil than colleges for a three-A Level package. However, the report is uncritical of the poor achievement, value for money and breadth of curriculum offer of small school sixth forms, instead suggesting mitigating circumstances which excuse this poor performance. It is noticeable that this mitigation is not extended to criticisms of the shortcomings within further education provision.

  9.  The report confirms the findings of area-wide inspections that school pupils are not always fully informed about alternatives to school sixth forms. The Association has been concerned about this for some time and in a survey conducted in 1999 found that over nine out of 10 colleges were encountering massive information barriers in schools which effectively removed pupil choice. (See attached document, Report on School/College Competition for Year 11 Pupils).

  10.  The report is critical of schools and colleges for not making greater use of value-added data. At present the only nationally recognised systems measure the progress made between GCSE and A Level/AVCE and the majority of colleges uses one of these systems. These work by comparing the GCSE point score with an A Level/AVCE score which indicates how well the student has done at level 3 compared with what could be expected taking into account performance at level 2. Many colleges use this data to motivate students through monitoring their progress against minimum target grades. However, the progress made by many students in colleges is much more difficult to quantify statistically because of the wide range of courses on offer and the widely divergent starting points of the students. For example, students may have no qualifications on entry and may leave with high level qualification or they may leave with low level ones—an HND or a basic IT certificate, for example—depending on their skills and goals. Or they may come in with a level 2 qualification in plumbing and go out with a level 2 qualification in plastering. These are just two examples of cases where it is not so easy to quantify the college's contribution to learning in a way that easily lends itself to comparisons between institutions. AoC supports the further development of ways of measuring value added and would like to see it as a priority for the Department. In this way, we believe that the real achievements of colleges will be recognised. (For further information on the use of value-added measurement in colleges, see the attached document, Developing Value-Added Measures.)[1]

  11.  The report also suggests that both schools and colleges need to make greater use of quality assurance processes. Colleges, however, have rigorous and effective self assessment processes, based on extensive quality assurance procedures, which have led to demonstrable improvements in retention and achievement and which accord largely with the findings of the inspectorates. The FEFC found in 2000-01 that, "Institutions have become significantly better at judging the quality of their programme area provision. Self assessment of cross-college provision is also more accurate." They found that on average there was a mere 0.17 of an inspection grade difference between programme area grades as assessed by colleges themselves and the inspectorate.

  12.  The report repeats the findings from area-wide inspections that there is a lack of strategic direction and co-ordination in 16-19 education across many areas. However, it is a misapprehension to suggest that this does not occur to any great extent in practice. Colleges are keen to ensure the coherence of the post-16 offer across an area and can show many examples of their contribution through collaborative working with neighbouring schools and other providers. A wide variety of collaborative provision has been developed to meet local needs and to respond to the needs of young people and adults. Colleges are happy in the vast majority of cases to enable local institutions to make use of their resources. This might include staff, equipment, accommodation, staff development opportunities, work experience opportunities and many others. In a survey conducted by AoC, over a hundred colleges gave concrete examples of the many ways in which they were working to ensure a coherent 16-19 phase. (See the attached document, Collaboration between colleges and schools—a survey by the Association of Colleges). In many others, work has been going on for some time to provide the same collaborative focus to the 14-19 phase. In the light of the Government's Green Paper proposals, this experience will provide an excellent start to developments.

  13.  This report of the Chief Inspector is based on inaccuracies and analysis of a very small number of colleges. AoC believes that some of the conclusions are therefore misleading about the sector as a whole. AoC is very concerned that OFSTED should have found fit to publish on this basis with no reference to subsequent judgements that were of a very different nature.

Association of Colleges

March 2002

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