Top college grade expected

The first college to get a top grade from Ofsted under its new common inspection framework is expected to be revealed soon.

The news came out in the House of Lords, although the college — understood to have been inspected in the past six weeks — has not been identified and its Ofsted report is still not public.

During a short debate on vocational reform just over a fortnight ago, Conservative peer Lord Lucas said: “It has been widely acknowledged that we have a problem as a nation with the quality of the teaching of vocational subjects in further education.

“The most recent example and proof of that has been Ofsted’s refusal to grant outstanding status to any FE college, although I believe there is one going through the process now.”

The last outstanding result was achieved by Hampshire’s Eastleigh College last July, under the old framework.

The new framework, introduced from September, followed Ofsted’s Good Education For All consultation that ended in May.

It includes a reduced inspection notice period from three weeks to two days and a potential re-inspection of providers ‘requiring improvement’ within 12 to 18 months. Providers who get the grade twice in a row can be judged inadequate on their third inspection if they haven’t improved.

The first good grading under the new framework went to City College Plymouth after an inspection in October.

It followed chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s annual report in which he called on the government to “shine a spotlight” on the FE sector with 13 colleges having been graded as inadequate in 2011/12, compared with four the previous year.

However, FE leaders have defended the sector.

Lynne Sedgmore, 157 Group executive director, said: “Lord Lucas quoted the Ofsted annual report, adding again to the perception that all FE is of poor quality.

“The inspection framework takes something of a narrow view of a college’s work, but I am confident that, even under the current arrangements, there is much genuinely exceptional practice.

“We will all be able to celebrate that fact when a college is awarded an outstanding grade.”

Joy Mercer, Association of Colleges policy director, said: “Ofsted has said it is looking to raise the bar with the new inspection framework.

“We have expressed concerns that the particular strengths of vocational teaching across a wide range of subjects, qualifications and student starting points, was a complexity with which Ofsted struggled.

“However, we hope we are seeing a growing understanding of how colleges are preparing students for work in a very challenging economic climate, and are pleased that colleges have been recognised for their outstanding work.”

She said that “a significant number” had been rated as good in the past year, under a different framework.

“Our joint aim is to further improve the quality of vocational education in colleges that are working with the most demanding students,” added Ms Mercer.

“We have a sound basis for further work as 64 per cent of colleges are already deemed good or outstanding by Ofsted from last year’s inspections.”