Ofsted has criticised colleges for missing skills targets and failing to prepare learners for local job opportunities.

The education watchdog found that of the 17 colleges it visited for a survey on local accountability and autonomy, just three were offering a curriculum tailored to their areas.

It conducted its survey to find out how the sector was responding to the government’s New Challenges, New Chances document, introduced just over a year ago to give colleges more freedom to tailor their curricula to local needs.

But Ofsted’s research uncovered little change in the colleges it looked at.

It also criticised local enterprise partnerships for not being “fully effective in working with the colleges to ensure high-quality, coherent local planning for further education and skills in their respective areas”.

Ofsted national director of learning and skills Matthew Coffey said that only three colleges had revised their curricula to prepare learners better for local opportunities, and to meet local, regional and national skills gaps.

“More worryingly, over a third of those visited did not have sufficient labour market intelligence to help them to plan their provision,” he said.

This report indicates there is much to be done.”

“Many colleges were able to clearly identify common priorities within their local region, such as poverty and deprivation, rising unemployment and a mismatch of skills. However, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate how successful they were in supporting progression to further training or employment.”

The report challenged college governors to hold their institutions to account for the quality of provision and outcomes for learners. It also urged them to provide comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of their college’s response to changing local economic and social priorities.

Joy Mercer, the Association of Colleges director of policy, said: “This report indicates there is much to be done. These efforts are to be made across the board — in partnerships by including colleges at the highest levels, in colleges to learn from the best, in government to support the challenges of raising the participation age. All parties also must agree data that would help governors and leaders judge their impact on growth and unemployment

“We are pleased therefore that Ofsted recognises and commends the progress in many colleges and the exceptional practice in some.

“There are many recommendations with which we agree. For example, it encourages partnership between schools and colleges to make sure young people are directed to the most appropriate provision.

“Currently this is difficult to achieve, as competition for students with school sixth forms means colleges are routinely prevented from advising pupils on their curriculum range.”

She said it did not “hurt” for a critical eye to be cast over partnerships and the inconsistency in their relationships with colleges.

“Colleges are making determined efforts to engage with their local enterprise partnerships. These efforts need to be reciprocated if the full potential of colleges acting in support of their local communities and businesses is to be realised,” added Ms Mercer.