Crackdown on 16-18 residential data in wake of cladding concerns

The government will write to all colleges and universities with residential learners aged 16 to 18 after officials found “data inaccuracies” which have prevented Ofsted from conducting inspections.

It follows an FE Week investigation that revealed how a tower block with Grenfell-style cladding that houses students at Highbury College and failed a fire safety test had gone 18 years without oversight from the education watchdog.

The college started moving classes and residents out of the building with “non-compliant” panelling earlier this week as it prepares for a multimillion-pound renovation to remove the material.

Highbury had previously advertised to parents that the residence was subject to Ofsted inspection, but in November, FE Week found the education watchdog had not regulated the halls since they were constructed in the 1970s and re-clad in 2001.

At the time the Department for Education told this newspaper that it was unaware of the residential provision, and therefore had not informed Ofsted it was in scope for their oversight, as the college had not declared it on the Get Information About Schools (GIAS) website.

A spokesperson added that all post-16 providers with residential provision for people aged under 18 are “required to inform the department about students in residential accommodation” and have a “responsibility to self-record this information on Get Information About Schools”.

An Education and Skills Funding Agency update, published on Wednesday, confirmed “the move from EduBASE to Get Information About Schools has resulted in some data inaccuracies relating to FE colleges and special post-16 providers (SPIs) in respect of the recording of residential provision”.

It said: “We will write to all colleges and those SPIs in scope directly now for the 2019 to 2020 academic year, and on an annual basis thereafter, to gather this information on the age and status of residential learners. It is important that we have accurate data to support Ofsted in meeting its responsibilities.

“Ofsted is required to inspect residential provision in colleges and some SPIs for all student residents under the age of 18 or under the age of 25 for those with an education health and care plan and rely on our data collection to ensure that they schedule inspections appropriately.

“All FE colleges and SPIs should continue to self-report information on GIAS and complete the appropriate fields on the individual learner records.”

Higher education providers which receive ESFA funding for residents aged 16 to 18, including Nottingham Trent University and University of the Arts London, are also in scope for “social care” inspections.

Courses run by universities for 16- to 18-year-olds include the art and design foundation studies programme, which among others is offered by Loughborough University.

Highbury’s residential provision was finally inspected after FE Week’s revelations in November 2019, the report of which was published last Friday.

It found that the halls “require improvement to be good” under the judgment, which scrutinised “how well young people are helped and protected”.

The report noted the cladding replacement project and said that “specific plans are in place and additional measures have been applied to address the concerns in the meantime”.

These included additional staffing at night and “ensuring that every student is aware of what to do in the event of the need to evacuate the building”.

Regular checks of the building and fire systems as well as fire drills “ensure that awareness is maintained” and “importantly, managers have sought advice and checks from the local Fire Rescue Service to ensure that the measures in place are likely to be effective”.

Work to remove non-compliant panelling at Highbury College is planned to get under way in the spring and is anticipated to take up to 12 months.

It remains unclear whether the Department for Education has signed off on the college’s £5 million application for financial support to fund the project. A DfE spokesperson said the outcome would be revealed in “due course”.

There are 18 students currently housed in the ten-storey block in Portsmouth, eleven of whom are aged under 18. They will have to move before it closes on January 31.

Students have been offered alternative living arrangements for the rest of the academic year, including local host family accommodation.

A statement from the college said the renovation project includes “upgrading the external cladding system and the replacement of all external doors and windows with new energy-efficient models designed to reduce utility costs and background noise”.