Ofsted boss still ‘not happy’ with colleges ‘flooding’ economy with arts and media students

Ofsted’s chief inspector is still “not happy” that some colleges steer too many of their students towards “superficially attractive” arts and media courses where there are limited job opportunities.

Amanda Spielman reiterated this concern, which she first raised at the 2018 Association of Colleges’ conference, during her speech at the watchdog’s annual report launch this morning.

She said the minority of colleges simply try to “fill their rolls and attract funding”, whether or not the programmes they offer “open doors for the students that take them”.

“This doesn’t mean that the courses the young people are taking are completely worthless, but flooding a local job market with young people with say low-level arts and media qualifications when the big growth in demand is for green energy workers, will result in too many under-employed and dissatisfied young people and wind turbines left idle,” Spielman told the audience.

“So we need a clearer focus on matching skills to opportunities not just for Brexit. Many FE providers operate in places the government says it wants to level up, what better way to level up than to radically improve the quality of vocational and skills education in our towns.

“But it does also mean tackling the small minority of our colleges that have under-performed or been stuck for years.”

She added that the government must think “strategically” about skills and how the FE sector is funded and “encouraged to provide the right courses of the right quality”.

When Spielman first spoke out about the “mismatch” between the numbers of students taking arts and media courses and their “future employment in the industry” in November 2018, she said the qualifications give learners “false hope”.

Her controversial comments made headlines in The Guardian, The Times and the Daily Mail.

In Ofsted’s annual report, the watchdog said high levels of management and health apprenticeships are a “mismatch” compared to the government’s industrial strategy and needs to be addressed “urgently” (full story here).

After today’s speech, she told FE Week: “There is always a balance in the system.

“It is very important to have a level of local autonomy in decision making but the funding of post-16 education is, there is a strategic and tactical alignment to it.

“I am encouraging government to make use of the powers that it has to decide where and how to channel money to help make sure that overall we do the best job we can for young people.”