SFA U-turn on performance tables

Nearly three months after the Skills Funding Agency was challenged over “mysterious” changes to college performance tables, it has told FE Week they will be reversed.

In July, the Association of Colleges (AoC) alerted its members that “high grades” would no longer include a C at GCSE on the success rate data managed by the Information Authority. In the briefing, leaked to FE Week, the AoC said the impact on colleges was “significant,” in some cases “halving” their high grade profile.

Ofsted has not used the new grade definition when inspecting colleges, re-issuing success rate reports in line with the original classification — A* to C not A* to B.
The Skills Funding Agency (SFA), which published the data, said this month it would re-issue this year’s reports to include the original definition.

Although a grade C is not a high grade, in the context of further education, a learner who achieves a GCSE A* to C grade is considered to have achieved a positive outcome,”

A spokesperson said: “The agency, from this year, will align the publication of high grade definitions with Ofsted’s requirements so that colleges can produce self-assessment reports using the same definition that inspectors will use.

“The SFA is currently seeking clarification from Ofsted around the definitions to be used in current and future inspection rounds.”

Ofsted said inspectors were “required to interpret published data to inform inspection judgments” during college inspections.

“Although a grade C is not a high grade, in the context of further education, a learner who achieves a GCSE A* to C grade is considered to have achieved a positive outcome,” said a spokesperson. “Inspectors will also use a wide range of other sources of evidence, including the provider’s own in-year performance data, the provider’s self-assessment report, previous inspection findings, observations of teaching, training and assessment, and the views of staff, learners and employers.”

In the their internal briefing, the AoC said that the grade definitions of national diploma level three qualifications had also been changed, as they “now seem to need at least one distinction” to count as a high grade. “Three merits used to count as high grades but don’t seem to any more,” the briefing explained.

The AoC told members in July that the “mysterious” changes had been made “without consultation” and called on the Information Authority to investigate.

A two-month investigation by the SFA at the request of FE Week, found the changes were made on the “recommendation” of the Data Harmonisation Group.

The Information Authority report said the group was originally established to assist Ofsted and the Learning and Skills Council to have a similar basis for calculating success rates.

“Having proved its usefulness the group has continued to meet, but its remit and lines of accountability need to be clarified,” the report said. The report said the chair of the investigation was “concerned” the information authority was not fulfilling its “full remit”.

“Because of the need to focus on delivering the Individualised Learner Record specification at a time of substantial change from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education, and their agencies, there is insufficient resource to offer authoritative guidance on the use of data.

“So much is collected and yet there are not ready to hand analyses of what is going on in the sector. It has to be acknowledged that in the absence of such analysis Ofsted has filled the vacuum and become an excellent repository of analytics.

The LSIS Observatory is another potential source of expertise and the secretariat has been exploring potential links with it.

“In the new era it also falls to the sector to take ownership of and accountability for its data,” said the report.