Further education leaders have welcomed Ofsted plans that would allow parents and learners to compare the post-16 performance of school sixth forms with that of colleges.

A separate inspection grade for school sixth forms could be introduced under much-anticipated proposals put out to consultation by the education watchdog.

An Ofsted spokesperson had told FE Week in July of the plans, adding that the effectiveness of post-16 provision did already inform wider inspection judgements on a school and that Ofsted recognised the importance of sixth forms in helping students to progress to employment or higher education.

And Ofsted’s national director for schools, Michael Cladingbowl, said this month: “It’s important that parents and young people have a clear understanding of how well the school’s sixth form is doing so they can make informed choices about where to continue their studies when they reach 16.”

Martin Doel (pictured left), Association of Colleges chief executive, said: “We have been pressing for many years for school sixth form provision to be graded separately in order for parents and students to be able to make a considered judgement about the best place to continue their studies.

“With the variety of options for 16-year-olds, it’s imperative there’s a robust comparison managed through an inspection regime that compares all provision in the same way.

“It doesn’t make sense that a school can be judged outstanding while its sixth form, if compared with a college’s provision, is only satisfactory.

“This long-overdue reform will help students and parents but it will be important to ensure inspectors use the same standards in school sixth forms and colleges.”

James Kewin (pictured below), Sixth Form Colleges’ Association deputy chief executive, said: “We have long campaigned for Ofsted to inspect school sixth forms and sixth form colleges in the same way.

“This proposal is an important step in the right direction and will help students to make an informed choice about where to study in the sixth form.

“At the moment, the absence of a separate grade can mask the quality of sixth forms in schools.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers also welcomed the move, but was critical of the timing.

Its general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted (pictured), said: “We are not particularly opposed to separate judgements for sixth forms, but ask why Ofsted is not introducing this at the same time as all the other recent and planned changes?”

She added: “Ofsted will never rebuild its reputation with teachers and heads while it constantly moves the goalposts for how it carries out inspections.”

The eight-week consultation, which ends on May 13, asks: “Should there be a separate graded judgement on the effectiveness of a school’s sixth form?” The change would apply to maintained schools and academies.

The consultation also proposes introducing separate graded judgements on the quality of nursery and reception in its inspection reports.

Mr Cladingbowl added: “We are keen to hear the views of parents and learners as well as providers about our proposals to bring in these separate judgements.

“We are also giving a lot of thought to how school inspection might develop over the longer term and will bring forward proposals for consultation in due course.”

Visit the Ofsted website for details on how to take part in the consultation.