Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman delivered her last speech as chief inspector to the Association of Colleges conference today, ahead of her departure from the role in December.
Here’s what she told the sector in full…
Good morning, thank you to all of you for coming. And to the AoC for inviting me. I’m just going to make a few introductory remarks and then I’m going to sit down with David for more of a conversation.
My first speech on post-16 education as Chief Inspector was at an AoC conference, just a couple of months after I started. So, it’s really nice to be speaking here again as I prepare to hand over the role at the end of the year.
And so I’d like to reflect a little not just on the past year but also on the past 7 years.
In that first speech I talked about the importance of colleges. I said:
“We owe it to the vast number of students passing through colleges every year to make sure their education is as good and as valuable as it can be, and our economy demands that too.”
That’s as true now as it was then. But I also acknowledged some of the challenges this sector faced then, many of which remain. The funding situation, the introduction of T Levels, difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, students with poor maths and literacy they all featured. And of course, this was all before the pandemic and its disruptions.
In this context, the progress we’ve seen is welcome. Because we have seen an overall trend of improvement. More colleges are now judged good or outstanding.
Two years ago, 8 out of 10 colleges were good or outstanding and now it is 9 out of 10. That is a tremendous achievement and reflects the hard work that you have all put in.
And the early results of our new judgement of skills needs are also encouraging. Almost all the colleges inspected so far are making strong or reasonable contributions. And by the way, reasonable is a positive judgement, not a bad one. And the positive response from the sector to this work has been welcome.
We also welcome the recent government commitment to fund an increase in post-16 teaching hours in the context of the Advanced British Standard, that’s something I’ve regularly talked about as Chief Inspector. It cannot be right for 17-year-olds to get half as much teaching as their peers in schools. From my point of view, that equalisation can’t come soon enough.
And the extra money to retain and retrain more teaching staff is a positive step. But, as government has acknowledged, this won’t be a quick fix. It will take time to build the capacity.
Areas for improvement
Of course, there are areas where we would like to see faster progress.
T Levels are one of those. Our recent review found some good practice but also significant weaknesses. And these are contributing to a high proportion of learners dropping out of courses. The planning for the new Advanced British Standard should take account not just of the T Level experience, its development and implementation, but also the sad history of the diploma.
We also have some concerns about apprenticeships including the number of starts, the quality of provision, and achievement rates.
The number of starts at levels 2 and 3 has fallen by at least half since 2015/16. These should be a significant part of the offer to school leavers. It’s hard to get a precise fix but it does look as though less than 5 per cent of 16–18-year-olds are going into apprenticeships, even though we know there is a lot of unsatisfied demand out there.
And of those who do start, an increasing proportion aren’t finishing. This is partly down to economic factors. But poor provision and a lack of information and guidance are playing a part too. Improving provision needs to be a priority as the quality of apprenticeships in colleges is lagging behind the other things you do.
But I do recognise the uncertainty that’s hanging over the sector with the possibility of defunding and the introduction of the Advanced British Standard (ABS). It is making it hard to look forward and have a realistic view of what the student numbers in different pathways will look like.
What next for Ofsted
We’re already aware that some of you are subject to double regulation, and there’s potential for it for those of you offering Level 4-5 technical qualifications. Further education has always been in a slightly unusual and overlapping place in terms of regulation.
The kind of quality inspection that Ofsted does is a powerful regulatory lever, but it’s fundamentally different from the way that the OfS, for example, operates.
Deciding what is the right model is a difficult question and it’s simply not one that Ofsted can answer. But, we do know the complications and tensions you face and will continue to look for clarifications.
And we are really grateful for the constructive engagement that we get from so many of you, from the AoC, and from the whole sector. It really is valuable and Corrienne was talking about it very well. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve what we do. For example, after consulting with you, we have recently introduced greater depth in our reporting on large and complex providers.
That engagement has also helped us to develop our curriculum reports, which I hope are already proving useful to you. We have already published the report on business education and will be following it up with ESOL, HR, and software development very soon.
Our reports on national curriculum subjects like maths, history, and English have already been downloaded over 700,000 times and are obviously very relevant to much of what you do, not just to schools. We’re using them to train our own staff and of course, hope that they’ll be valuable to you.
So do look out for them. And if you want to learn more about the work of our curriculum unit, we have a breakout session with our HMIs this afternoon.
But given that David and I would very much like to have a conversation; I’ll leave it there.