An extra grade focussing solely on post-16 provision in schools and academies could be introduced to inspection reports, Ofsted has told FE Week.
It is hoped the move may give a more accurate reflection of the quality of a school’s sixth form provision and make it easier for prospective students to make comparisons between their local sixths forms and general FE colleges.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted is now planning whether to provide a separate grading for a school’s sixth form within its inspection reports.”
She added that the effectiveness of post-16 provision did already inform wider inspection judgements on a school and that Ofsted recognised the importance of the importance of sixth forms in helping students to progress to employment or higher education.
The extra grade would reverse a decision made two years ago to produce a single overall grade for schools.
Plans for the extra grade were welcomed by the Association of Colleges (AoC).
Joy Mercer, AoC’s director of policy, said separating sixth forms was “the right decision”.
“AoC has been campaigning for a separate grading for schools sixth forms for some time so we are very pleased that Ofsted have listened,” she said.
She added there was “an obvious injustice” in cases the AoC was aware of, where school and academy sixth forms did not retain their students after the age of 17, failed to achieve success rates comparable to a local college, but were part of a school rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted.
The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association has also campaigned for this measure.
The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association Chief executive David Igoe said: “We are very pleased Ofsted have taken this step.”
Mr Igoe recently wrote to Her Majesty’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, highlighting that parent and students were currently unable to make “meaningful comparisons” between school sixth forms and colleges.
His letter continued: “We understand the reason for this and the concern the Secretary of State has to reduce bureaucracy.
“However, we think it is important that parents and students can make an informed choice about where to study.
He added that the time was right to rethink the policy.
Today he said: “We are naturally delighted Sir Michael has responded to this request and we hope that further work will continue on developing a single benchmark for all 16-19 institutions.
“It would, after all, defeat the point if a school sixth form grade meant something different to a Sixth Form College grade and to a FE College grade.
“Frustratingly that is the case at present but we remain hopeful that Ofsted remain committed to developing national all institution benchmarks.”
Malcolm Trobe, policy director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the organisation had “no issues” with the introduction of a new grade but agreed that colleges and sixth forms were judged on the same criteria.
“There’s a logic to the way we’re doing it at the moment but there’s an equal logic in what they’re talking about,” he said.
“The key thing is they have got to use exactly the same criteria — there has to be a level playing field in terms of the use of data.”
He added: “Inspectors also have to make sure they are spending a significant amount time in the sixth form during a two day visit to the school, to ensure they are taking a good fair look at it.”
Ms Mercer also called for Ofsted to use the same inspection framework for college and school sixth forms, pointing out that at key stage five, both were monitored and funded in the same way.