‘Inadequate’ colleges double-digit disaster as English and maths policy blamed

The number of general further education colleges to have been branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted since September has hit double figures, exclusive FE Week analysis has revealed.

College leaders have blamed the government’s increased focus on English and maths, pinning what they call “unfair” expectations on colleges for the rise in grade fours.

Ten colleges have now been handed the lowest possible grade from the education watchdog since the introduction of the new common inspection framework in September, compared to five in the same period last year.

The most recent of these was Telford College of Arts and Technology (TCAT), which had its Ofsted report published on Tuesday (June 14).

All 10 colleges were slammed by inspectors for their English and maths provision, with criticism in these areas appearing in the key findings on all 10 reports.

When shown FE Week’s figures, Gill Clipson (pictured), deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges said: “It is unfair to expect colleges to help young people achieve the necessary grade C in GCSE English and maths in one year, when they have not been successful after 11 years in school.”

She added that “it is expected” Ofsted would focus on English and maths as improving standards in these areas “is a key government policy”.

“The colleges that do well in inspections are those that can prove that their students, regardless of their starting point, have progressed during their studies,” she continued.

David Russell, chief executive of the Education and Training Foundation, agreed that Ofsted was “placing more emphasis on maths and English in the 16-to-19 phase”.

“It is a huge government priority, and an area where colleges have a massive challenge,” he said.

“Ofsted has no alternative but to say what they see; and in our view many colleges are under-resourced in key ways to deliver the high expectations that government rightly has of them,” he continued.

Mr Russell said that, while funding was an issue, “the bigger challenge is recruiting, training and retaining enough teachers with the right skills and experience to teach maths and English to young people who have not yet succeeded in them”.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, also criticised Ofsted’s inspection methods of maths and English within traineeships.

He complained about providers “being given ‘required to improve’ gradings by Ofsted based solely on English and maths outcomes, as Ofsted is not willing to accept destination data as robust evidence”.

Since 2013, colleges have been required to enrol all learners who don’t already have at least a grade C in English and maths on courses in these subjects.

The requirement is part of the study programmes, which were introduced following a recommendation by Professor Alison Wolf in her 2011 review of vocational education, the Wolf Report.

FE Week’s analysis also showed that four colleges had lost their top grade since September – including Accrington and Rossendale College, which dropped to grade three on Tuesday (June 14).

The quality of English and maths provision is an issue for three out of those four colleges.

This comes at a bad time for FE, after chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw caused uproar in the sector when he told MPs he believed 16 to 19-year-olds should be taught in schools, not colleges.

The unrepentant Ofsted boss is likely to feel that these grade fours vindicate his comments to the Commons education select committee in March, when he said the FE sector was “in a mess — that’s why the government is reviewing it”.

There have so far been 51 full inspections of general FE colleges since September, a rise of 13 on the same period last year.

Of these, 20 colleges have been rated ‘good’ – an increase of seven from this time last year.

TCAT’s interim principal Jo Lomax said the college was “extremely disappointed” by its inadequate grading.

Accrington and Rossendale’s principal Sue Taylor told FE Week: “We accept the outcome of Ofsted’s visit”.