Memorandum from the Association of Colleges
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
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
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 onesan HND or a basic
IT certificate, for exampledepending 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.)
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 schoolsa
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
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
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