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


Further memorandum from the Association of Colleges (SQ 12)

  We were very pleased that at the Select Committee meeting of 5 December 2001, there was such a full discussion of many of the issues concerned with the work of OFSTED which are of concern to the Association. The work of the Select Committee is, of course, most important to colleges in keeping a watching eye on the work of OFSTED and the LSC in the early days while new systems for inspection and funding in the post-16 sector are bedding down.

  We were surprised but pleased to hear a commitment from Mike Tomlinson to work with the Association in reducing the burden of bureaucracy and demands for data before both college and area inspections. As you may know, AoC has been conducting a campaign to raise awareness of this issue which is the cause of so much frustation to colleges. We welcome the creation of the "bureaucracy-busting" Task Group led by Sir George Sweeney which will be looking chiefly at reducing bureaucracy generated by the LSC and we look forward to working with this group. I am sure you would agree that the recent award to the LSC of an extra £50 million makes it particularly important that it is kept on task in its work to raise quality across the post-16 sector and not allowed simply to generate additional administrative work for the colleges. We would like to enlist the support of the Select Committee in ensuring that the Sweeney Group looks in particular at the overlapping demands of the OFSTED inspection process, both area-wide and college inspections, and those of the LSC provider review process.

  We were pleased to learn that following the first round of OFSTED-led inspections, colleges which have shown they are providing a high quality learning experience can look forward to a lighter touch in subsequent inspections. This will be greatly welcomed by colleges as it will ensure that maximum effort is put into maintaining the quality of the provision, rather than amassing the quantities of evidence required for a full inspection.

  With regard to colleges' concern over the short lead-in time for an inspection, we are pleased to note that this period will be extended for forthcoming inspections to 16 weeks. In addition, we understand that OFSTED intends to reduce the size of future inspection teams. The large number of inspectors requiring accommodation and additional information during inspection week has been a very disruptive factor for colleges and this is an issue on which we have expressed concern many times.

  Another allied point of great concern to colleges is the apparent difficulty in finding appropriate inspectors to form these large teams and that in several cases inspectors with appropriate experience are still being recruited to teams at the very last minute, or even, in some cases, during the inspection week itself. There have been instances reported to us where inspectors with very little experience have been employed on teams. The refusal by OFSTED to issue pen portraits or brief CVs of inspectors does nothing to allay the fears of colleges in this respect.

  On the subject of improving student retention rates in colleges, you correctly identified at the meeting the significance of the whole staffing issue. We are pleased to have your support on this. It is clear that non-retention of good staff in colleges, and the consequent effects on the quality of teaching and learning and therefore student retention across an institution, are due in large part to the poor pay and conditions experienced by teachers in further education colleges relative to those in schools.

  At the Select Committee there appeared to be some recognition by OFSTED of the AoC assertion that there is an imbalance in the scrutiny of different types of provision in OFSTED-led inspections. It is still our contention that there is a disproportionate emphasis during inspection and in the subsequent reports on level three provision for 16-18 year olds compared to that of lower levels of work and for adult students. More recent inspections have continued to demonstrate this. Colleges where adults comprise over 80 per cent of the student body are not having this work proportionately represented in either the lessons observed or the text of the final report.

  This, as you can imagine, will do nothing to encourage colleges to attract those potential students who are harder to reach, harder to teach and harder to retain and who, as you will be only too well aware, are key to reaching the government's targets for increased participation. In any case, many colleges already have huge strengths in providing for exactly this type of student and to have this go unremarked in an inspection gives a significantly unbalanced picture of their college. We would greatly appreciate your support in ensuring that OFSTED do re-examine this important matter.

Association of Colleges

March 2002

previous page contents

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 30 April 2002