Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s national director for learning and skills, writes for FE Week about the issues raised for providers.

It has been an eventful year for all of us involved in the FE and skills sector. In July, for example, we held our first learning and skills lecture at City and Islington College where the panel discussions, chaired by Baroness Sally Morgan, got to the heart of many issues affecting our sector.

Joining the discussion was Frank McLoughlin, principal of City and Islington College; Neil Carberry, director of employment and skills at the Confederation of British Industry; and Professor Ken Spours, head of the department of continuing education at the Institute of Education.

And it will come as no surprise that the new common inspection framework for FE and skills will start this week. From now on, providers can no longer be judged as “satisfactory”. Instead, we are replacing the category with “requires improvement”.

At last week’s AoC seminar, several HMI-facilitated workshops allowed delegates to explore the new framework in detail.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, recognised the quality of our providers.

He said that he was impressed by learners and the wide range of courses, from entry level to degrees. He had often heard the FE and skills sector described as the “Cinderella” of education, but he did not share that view.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “I have no doubt about the importance of FE, the range of learners you serve, the talent and commitment of the people working within the sector or the expectations now being placed on you to help the country out of the depths of recession.”

Like me, Sir Michael was struck by the differing in standards, both in providers he visited and our inspection findings.

Just raising expectations through targeted inspections will not be enough”

He recognised our risk-assessed approach had targeted inspections on providers where there was the greatest concern. This inevitably led to a more negative grade profile than if we had kept using our previous approach.

The conference was also an opportunity to underline our concern about the quality of teaching and an undue focus on passing qualifications without ensuring that learners were sufficiently challenged or adequately prepared for the next stage in their lives.

In September last year, there were more than 350 learning and skills providers judged as satisfactory in their most recent inspection. Sixty-nine colleges had been judged satisfactory for two consecutive inspections, including 29 that had been judged satisfactory for a third time.

Just raising expectations through targeted inspections, however, will not be enough.

Ofsted has a greater role here. We can complement the work of those bodies charged with bringing about improvement and invest more of our resources to supporting providers to improve.

I will provide more detail on our plans in November.

Inspections under the new framework will start this week with a much-reduced notification period of two days. We launch Learner View, our online tool designed to enable learners to tell us their views about their college or provider, at the same time.

And, of course, as the new academic year begins, the production of the chief inspector’s annual report gathers pace.

This year’s report is much more interactive to enable greater access to the vast body of knowledge collected from inspections last year.

I look forward to seeing all FE professionals out and about, either on inspection or at the packed conference programme we have committed to attend throughout the autumn term.