New shorter Ofsted reports are 'good' for colleges

Colleges and independent learning providers are prospering under the new Ofsted inspection framework, with most scoring “good” grades in the initial run of reports.

The first inspection reports conducted under the new framework, which came into effect from 1 September, were released last Friday.

A total of 18 have now been published and almost three quarters (71 per cent) have received a grade two, or “good” ranking.

Four were classified as grade three, or “requires improvement,” and one was rated grade four, or “inadequate”.

The reports are structured quite differently from before, with new questions and a different layout, but one of the most drastic changes has been the reduction in word count.

The report for Woodspeen Training in Huddersfield, the first provider to be inspected under the new framework, features 2,004 words, while its previous report from 2017 contained 5,241 words.

This could be due to Ofsted’s decision to reduce the number of types of provision it inspected under the new framework to make its reports “more coherent and inclusive”.

This meant that, for example, rather than looking at a range of study programmes for those aged 16-19 and those aged 16-24, they would all be grouped under education programmes for young people.

The new framework is intended to focus less on data and more on the quality of education received by learners.

Woodspeen Training, which improved from a grade three to a two, told FE Week in September that inspectors were looking at the “three I’s”: intent, implementation, and impact.

This new model appears to be benefitting general FE colleges: three out of five of their reports from this week returned “good” ratings.

Bedford College was another of the successful providers, with inspectors reporting that more than 10,000 learners enjoy their time and benefit from a “positive and respectful culture”.

This is the first inspection since its merger in 2017 with Tresham College, which received a grade four rating in 2016.

Ofsted also graded Tyne Coast College in South Shields as “good” and wrote that the 5,000 learners enjoy the experience and feel valued by staff.

North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College also achieved a grade two for its provision to over 5,000 learners.

Inspectors found its senior leaders had developed and successfully implemented a clear strategy, resulting in sustained improvement since the college was formed from a merger of two others in 2016.

The less successful performers were Coventry College and The Sheffield College.

Coventry, which has around 6,000 learners, failed to rise above a grade three after it was found that too few of its learners and apprentices in 2018/19 received clear information about courses, their location and entry criteria.

The Sheffield College, with over 10,000 learners, also received a grade three because too few learners on study programmes and with high needs achieved their qualification.

Two specialist colleges have earned a grade two under the new framework: Lakeside Early Adult Provision on Merseyside, which has ten students and improved on a grade three; and Freeman College in Sheffield, which has 27 students.

Independent providers have also done well since the new inspection framework was introduced – with seven out of nine achieving a grade two in their reports.

Norman Mackie and Associates in Cheshire, like Woodspeen, progressed from a grade three to a grade two this week.

Inspectors reported that its 41 learners “enjoy and participate fully in their learning programmes” and leaders have high expectations for them.

But on the flip side, Mercia Partnership, based in Chorley, Lancashire, is challenging Ofsted after being given the first grade four rating under the new framework. People Solutions Training, which trades as N-gaged and is based in Bristol, scored a grade three overall but received an “inadequate” for apprenticeships.

The provider told FE Week that it would not be challenging the grade.

Employer providers are off to a bad start after Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust received a grade three in its first inspection.

Kirklees Council Adult and Community Learning scored a grade two. This was a downgrade from its previous grade one.