Ofsted success leads to government support call

The government has been urged to do more to promote sixth-form colleges after the sector’s second outstanding grade under Ofsted’s tough new inspection regime.

Rochdale Sixth Form College, which has around 1,000 students, got grade one rankings across the education watchdog’s headline fields following its first inspection.

“Teaching is energetic and often inspirational, and builds students’ confidence to achieve their potential,” said the report.

“Lessons start promptly with a good pace that promotes a vibrant learning environment and strong work ethic.

“Teachers use a wide range of interactive activities and skilful questioning to engage and challenge students, and progress in lessons is very good.”

The result, which follows the outstanding achieved by Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College late last year, has prompted a call for more government focus on the sector.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said: “We are delighted that Ofsted has recognised the outstanding work of Rochdale Sixth Form College.

“As the most recent sixth-form college to have opened its doors, it is a great advertisement for our sector and highlights the transformative effect our colleges can have on local communities.

“While the government continues to promote the establishment of new academies and free schools with 16 to 19 provision, similar support for new sixth-form colleges has been conspicuous by its absence,” he said.

“Rochdale shows that investing in sixth-form colleges can result in swift and positive returns.

“Our message to government is to focus on the product, not the brand — sixth-form colleges may not have the academy or free school name above the door, but they continue to outperform these new providers, and school sixth forms, on a range of measures.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the government valued sixth-form colleges.

“Their record of getting large numbers of students into top universities is outstanding, and they offer fantastic value for money,” she said.

“By 2015, we will end the disparity in funding for 16 to 18-year-olds so that all school and colleges are funded at the same rate.

“The evidence is clear that academies are transforming the life chances of thousands of pupils, and free schools will do the same. Both academies and free schools are funded on a comparable basis to other state-funded schools.”

Rochdale’s outstanding grade came under the new inspection framework that was introduced in September.

It followed Ofsted’s Good Education For All consultation that ended in May and 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 must also achieve outstanding in the headline field of teaching and learning to be considered for an overall grade one.