The Ofsted annual state-of-the-nation report is due for publication next month and I’ve spent much of this week crunching the figures.

 The first thing that stood out was the stark decline in full inspections, overall falling by nearly a third, despite the rising number of FE and skills providers.

 Naturally a lot of focus has been on the new apprenticeship provider monitoring visits, but it is particularly concerning that full inspections at independent training providers fell from 126 to just 70, a 44 per cent cut.

 It is unclear why the inspectorate has suddenly shown less interest in the existing provider base, claiming it has nothing to do with well documented budget cuts or reallocation of funds to other activities, such as research.

Nobody is suggesting Ofsted is failing to meet their statutory duties, but dramatic reductions in quality oversight during turbulent times should concern us all.

The second highlight from the inspection figures is some welcome good news, in the form of the general further education college grade profile.

As we report this week, the number colleges with ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ grades as at 31 August has shot up to 76 per cent, from a low of 69 per cent just 12 months before.

FE Week has been following the trend, since September 2017, of grade three colleges rising to grade two, which is to be celebrated.

And there are now no general further education colleges with a grade four.

 But a closer look at the Ofsted spreadsheets reveal part of the reason rests with college mergers. When colleges merge, Ofsted remove all existence of them from the statistics.

In fact, by 31 August there were only 140 general further education colleges with inspection grades, down from 188 the previous year.

Merged colleges will return to the figures when inspected, so time will tell whether the college grade profile will continue to improve. How much time will depend on Ofsted’s appetite for quality assuring the existing provider base, which if last year is anything to go by, is low.