Bournville College leadership got a glowing grade one from Ofsted before the FE Commissioner Dr David Collins was sent in to sort out the finances. He later said the education watchdog could “be more useful” on college financial matters and Graham Taylor considers who’s got it right.

In the Ofsted versus FE Commissioner Rumble in the Jungle, who wins? It’s a no-brainer — Dr Collins.

How can you possibly be awarded a grade one for leadership and management and be bordering upon insolvent at the same time?

Ofsted needs to rethink its evaluation criteria for FE. It pays little attention to financial indicators or customer growth and rarely (if ever) comments on it. So it’s possible to get a high grade when you are approaching bust and/or your learner numbers are falling.

Ofsted supposedly promotes value for money within the common inspection framework (CIF) principles of inspection and regulation, but it doesn’t report on it.

If it did, the 1,180 school sixth forms with fewer than 100 learners would be in trouble. Three quarters of the University Technical Colleges, free schools and studio schools are funded for fewer than 100 16 to 18-year-olds in 2014/15. And the taxpayer paid for 100 per cent of the capital funds to build these gleaming and underutilised edifices.

It’s a minor miracle if FE sector managers make a modest surplus to reinvest in improving teaching and learning. Only 43 per cent of colleges managed a trading surplus last year and just 26 have been ‘financially outstanding’ for the last three years.

The sector and Government is sleep-walking into a financial crisis and I guess Dr Collins will be calling on a few FE colleges struggling to make ends meet

You should get a grade one (and a gold medal) for this and good success rates and not because of lesson observation judgements — subjective by definition and outmoded for e-learning and work-based assessment methods.

So the next Ofsted CIF (it seems to rewrite them every three years) should include for FE, a financial measure; a learner FTE measure — is the provider attracting learners (you’d be surprised how many providers with good or outstanding grades are losing business/ learners)?; and a rethink of how e-learning and workplace learning (usually assessment-based) are measured.

If we follow the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group path then classroom work will be a minority sport. Ofsted needs to get IT and get social media savvy. Sitting in classrooms trying to figure out if learning is taking place while students watch an inspirational TED lecture is a tough call.

Moons ago we used to receive inspection reports on why colleges fail and how colleges succeed.

We could do with these reminders rather than the bland reports which we read now. If they “support and promote improvement” they need to get the KPIs right — customers and finance come first — the rest follows.

And getting finance right will be even more critical in FE. The sector and Government is sleep-walking into a financial crisis and I guess Dr Collins will be calling on a few FE colleges struggling to make ends meet. But there are two solutions.

First, unprotect the schools budget to ease the pain.

Government is only halfway to clearing the eyewatering deficit so cuts will continue. Whoever’s in power next May should unprotect the schools budget so that cuts are spread more evenly. Whatever pressures schools are under they’re not financial. It would be “fairer” (an oft used political word) to cut schools more — they are, after all, funded 22 per cent more per pupil than we are. At present the protected schools budget makes up 80 per cent of educational spend. No wonder the unprotected 16 to 18 bit gets such a disproportionate bashing.

And secondly, give us more freedom to spend the (reducing) funds.

In 2010, the Government promised “less money but more freedom”. Given the dire state of the economy the sector bought into that. So we’ve had 35 per cent cuts in adult funding, 8 per cent in 16 to 18 but with less freedom.

We used to be able to vire between qualification aims and age groups. Now we have to pursue apprenticeships (*12,000 other qualifications are available) and loan funding. Please restore this ability to vire and follow customer demand.