Ofsted: more cash needed before campus-level inspections become reality

Ofsted is keen to introduce campus-level inspections but would need more cash from the Department for Education before they could become a reality, FE Week can reveal.

On Wednesday the DfE confirmed it would introduce campus-level performance reporting from next year, following a consultation earlier this year.

Ofsted’s response to the consultation, seen exclusively by FE Week, backed the DfE’s proposals to introduce performance reporting at both college level, within groups, and site level within mega-colleges.

“The availability of more granulated performance data could enable Ofsted to inspect in more detail at a ‘sub-corporation’ level, while still holding the overarching corporation to account for the quality of provision at all colleges/delivery sites,” it said.

The inspectorate has been in discussion with the DfE for “some time” about the possibility of campus-level inspections, and has “made clear that the availability of performance data at the level of inspection is an important prerequisite for us carrying out such inspections”.

“Equally, Ofsted would need to seek extra resources from the DfE for additional costs incurred through ‘campus-level’ inspections,” it said.

The DfE’s response to the consultation would be “taken into account” in “consulting on and determining” inspection arrangements in the revised education inspection framework from September 2019, Ofsted said.

Even if the inspectorate didn’t go ahead with campus-level inspections, the data would mean Ofsted would “be able to identify what value is being added by the college being part of the group”.

Its response made clear that it “will play no part” in deciding what “is or is not subject to separate inspection”, and it would be up to the DfE and the Education and Skills Funding Agency to define “which actual units are delivery sites/ campuses”.

The prospect of campus-level inspections at mega-colleges with multiple sites was first raised during an FE Week interview with Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman in March last year, who said they were under “active” consideration with the DfE.

But the consultation response reveals that discussions on the subject began as far back as 2016, at which point “draft criteria were drawn up”.

The area reviews of post-16 education and training, which ended in March last year, led to the creation of a number of mega-colleges and groups through mergers – prompting questions about Ofsted’s ability to accurately grade provision across multiple sites.

Joe Docherty, boss of England’s largest college group, NCG, told FE Week in February he had been lobbying Ofsted for more than two years to introduce individual grades for each of the group’s eight members.

The group recently saw its rating fall from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’, a drop that was blamed in part on the time spent on due diligence for its two most recent mergers, with Carlisle College and Lewisham Southwark College.