Ofsted is to reduce inspection notice periods from three weeks to two days.
The change, which will be implemented from September, is set down in an amended Common Inspection Framework, released last week as part of the handbook for the inspection of further education and skills.
Ofsted has already piloted “no notice” inspections, but Matthew Coffey, its national director for learning and skills, said that many providers “raised genuine concerns about logistics”.
Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said that the organisation was pleased there would be two days rather than “no notice”, but concerns remained.
“This is still a tight time-frame and will continue to cause logistical problems for colleges and Ofsted inspectors, particularly in ensuring that they see the fullest range of provision, including the more complicated areas such as work-based, off campus, employment-driven courses.
“That’s why we think it’s even more important that Ofsted is clear about what data it will be using and what evidence requirements it would expect colleges to have to hand.”
There is no parity and it is unfair for a college’s provision to be at risk when a neighbouring school or academy sixth form may well offer poorer quality provision”
The framework has also replaced the “satisfactory” judgment with “requires improvement”, which Mr Coffey said “makes clear that only a good level of education is acceptable”.
Ms Mercer said that colleges accepted that complacency “should have no place in a sector committed to continuous self-improvement”, but that the AoC remained “uncomfortable” with “requires improvement”.
“The implications for colleges are stark,” she said. “A simplistic application of the term ‘requires improvement’ does not capture the wide range of circumstances encompassed by the existing ‘satisfactory’ grade, which range from a so-called ‘coasting’ institution to one that is making solid progress towards improvement.
“However, we’re pleased that Ofsted has moved away from its ‘three strikes’ policy and, if a college has made demonstrable improvements, this will be taken into consideration and the college will not necessarily be graded inadequate on its third inspection.”
The framework says that there will normally be a full inspection of providers judged to “require improvement” within 12 to 18 months. Those judged to require improvement twice in a row from September this year may be judged inadequate on their third inspection if they failed to improve.
“This will drive up improvement and discourage coasting providers,” Mr Coffey said.
In February this year Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief schools inspector, launched Good Education for All, a 12-week consultation with the further education and skills sector on the proposals for the amended framework.
Mr Coffey said that Ofsted “received hundreds of valuable responses. Often learners were more positive about the proposals than many of the providers,” he said.
In response to the framework, Ms Mercer said that the AoC “remains extremely concerned” about the huge differences between the way that school and academy sixth forms were inspected compared with FE colleges and sixth-form colleges.
“There is no parity and it is unfair for a college’s provision to be at risk when a neighbouring school or academy sixth form may well offer poorer quality provision,” she said.
“There needs to be a common set of data used and a similar methodology, including a grade for school and academy sixth forms, so that students and parents can make a real comparison.”