Ofsted grades continue to fall for 157 Group colleges

Further education colleges should be judged on all aspects of their work and not just those in an Ofsted inspection, according to a membership body.

The 157 Group, which represents 27 large and successful colleges, believes contribution to the social and economic community served by a college should also be measured, as well as those by the education regulator.

It comes in the wake of analysis by FE Week of the Ofsted inspections of the colleges within the 157 Group over the last two years.

Since the start of 2010, five of the 10 body’s colleges which have been inspected have dropped by one grade or more. The grades for three colleges have stayed the same, while one – Highbury College Portsmouth – has increased.

The final 157 Group member inspected in the last two years, The Manchester College, had never previously been inspected.

Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive, said: “The 157 Group are proud of all of our colleges and the powerful contributions they make to our society and economy.

“While Ofsted can provide an important snapshot assessment of that part of an institution’s work it inspects, we are clear that any inspection results – be it Ofsted, QAA or other – whilst important, are only a partial reflection and cannot fully demonstrate the full range of high-quality activities undertaken by a large urban college.

“Nor can they offer a fully rounded criteria for truly successful, large and diverse colleges.”

She added: “The 157 Group is actively supporting national policy development and working with partners to raise the quality of teaching and learning and inspection processes.

“We are developing improved ways, beyond Ofsted’s current understanding, to measure a college’s broader contribution to the social and economic communities it serves, reflecting the increasing emphasis placed by government on accountability to users.”

The chief executive also backed Lewisham College for their “outstanding provision not inspected by Ofsted” after an inspection, published this month, which graded them as ‘satisfactory’. When last inspected, the college was graded ‘outstanding’.

We are no worse than in the inspection in 2009, but the criteria has changed and the measurement has changed and Ofsted has changed.”

Maxine Room, principal at Lewisham College, blamed the college’s retention of students as a key issue, but insists the college is still successful.

She said: “Of course we were disappointed when we feel we have very good work going on and the achievements of our learners are very good.

“We are a successful college. Our achievement is 80 to 100 per cent so it’s the retention issues particularly. We are working hard on that.

“Sometimes the difference between 80 and 85 is just one of two students in terms of retention, so it’s around the margins.”

She also added: “We are still a successful college working well with our learners. We are no worse than in the inspection in 2009, but the criteria has changed and the measurement has changed and Ofsted has changed.”

The college also said while the assessment “compares extremely favourably within the sector”, they recognise they have “areas where improvement is needed” and the “drive for excellence continues relentlessly” for learners and the community.

The report shows that although the college’s outcomes for learners, quality of provision and leadership and management were all ‘satisfactory’, their grades for safeguarding and equality and diversity were both judged ‘good’.

In a statement, the college added: “We are committed to a culture of entrepreneurialism and our first group of young entrepreneurs has just taken part in stage one of our joint entrepreneur programme with the London Borough of Lewisham.

“Our plans for merger with Southwark College are progressing, making this one of the most exciting periods in our history despite being in challenging times.”

For a round-up of college inspections since the introduction of the Common Inspection Framework in September, click here.