The government has been urged to “shine a spotlight” on the further education sector following a damning Ofsted annual report that has pointed to a threefold increase in the number of inadequate colleges. Click here to download the report.

It said 13 colleges received the grading in 2011/12, compared to four the previous year.

It further pointed out how, for the second year running, Ofsted did not judge a single college to be outstanding for teaching and learning.

“In the weakest providers, too much emphasis was placed on attracting young people to popular, often low-level, courses that were of little value to employers,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the success rates in the teaching of functional literacy and numeracy skills, fundamental to the needs of students and employers, are too low.

“There has been too much of a focus on expansion at the expense of improving the quality of provision.”

The government now needs to shine as much of a spotlight on this sector as it has done on schools.”

It added: “The learning and skills sector needs re-orientating towards a moral determination to provide high quality and relevant provision, which should include reputable apprenticeship opportunities for young people.”

Following the release of his first annual Ofsted report as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said: “The further education sector is a real concern for me at a time when the nation needs skilled and qualified people entering the workforce more than ever before.

“It is vital that the sector responds with high quality provision designed to tackle the urgent issue of youth unemployment.

“The government now needs to shine as  much of a spotlight on this sector as it has done on schools.

“Schools have seen their increased freedoms balanced by a strong accountability system and action on failure. The same should be true for colleges.”

The wider report was based on the findings of nearly 25,000 inspections of early years and childcare, schools, colleges and adult learning and skills.

It said schools were improving, with year-on-year rises in the proportion of those rated good or better.

In the learning and skills sector, among others, 70 colleges were inspected, along with 63 adult and community learning providers and 128 independent learning providers.

“Overall, the quality of provision in the learning and skills sector is not improving,” said the report.

“Almost 1.5 million learners are being supported by providers who are not yet good and some colleges have now been satisfactory for over 10 years.

“For general further education colleges, the overall picture of inspection results has worsened over the past year.”

The report further questioned college governance, monitoring of apprenticeships, the “relatively small” growth in the number of apprenticeships among under 19s and said there was a “real danger that increased subcontracting will dilute quality in the learning and skills sector”.

It added: “The 261 providers that were inspected accounted for about 866,460 learners in the sector. Of these, around 380,700 were t providers judged to be either satisfactory or inadequate. This is a significant concern.”

For more comment and analysis, see the next edition of FE Week