Colleges are unfairly being held back by their past

18 Jun 2021, 9:30

The government is measuring colleges by using unfair historical references that are of out of date and do not present a level playing field, writes Chris Webb.

Colleges that are graded 3 and have shown significant improvement are consistently being denied access to money due to their Ofsted grade especially when they have been waiting for an inspection for some considerable time. However, colleges that are a grade one that haven’t been inspected of over 10 years now continue to have access to the capital funds.  It doesn’t seem fair and it’s not a level playing field.  Students are being denied high quality facilities and investment in this process.

Bradford College has been stuck in limbo for over a year now and despite raising this with Department for Education and Education and Skills Funding Agency the barriers restricting funding opportunities still remain. At the current time there is no opportunity for the college to get an Ofsted ‘good or better’ until Ofsted resumes its inspections in the autumn by which time the college will have missed out on another year of opportunities.

Colleges are measured using historical references that are of out of date, and a result of 10 years ago and should not be used to determine its current and future capability.

The system rewards the privileged.  If you have a financial health notice to improve, or even a satisfactory health rating, you are excluded from applying.  Ultimately the system rewards colleges who have sufficient income at the detriment of colleges who desperately need the money.  It allows colleges that have money, opportunity for more money and those colleges that need money and support to catch up are excluded.

The system pushes “good and outstanding” colleges forward and restricts those that are graded as “requires improvement” or ‘inadequate’. There is no way to bridge the gap.  Simply by not allowing colleges to move forward it ensures that the gap widens.  If this was a classroom you would put in more support for those students who are struggling whilst still supporting those doing well. The system should recognise this concept but the current process seeks to exclude those colleges from the classroom.

Bradford College has ambitions to develop its higher and professional technical offer but is not eligible to apply for the Office for Students growth fund because the rules state “If you are eligible for an Ofsted inspection, you must have a rating of ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’”.

Higher and technical education is delivered at level 4 and 5 which is not graded using an Ofsted measure. The college has a number of good quality measures, positive QAA visits, TEF Bronze, and an Ofsted ‘good’ for our level 6 provision in our Initial Teacher Education.  The key question is why is the system not using more relevant measures rather than choosing to operate a single source of grading to determine funding opportunities that do not relate to the level 4/5 provision being bid for.

The college had been delivering technical education and apprenticeships through one of its subsidiary companies and due to changes in funding, subcontracting rules and the restructuring deal we have been forced to subsume the company into the college.  This has resulted in the provision which was good with elements of outstanding now forced to be viewed under the college umbrella of requires improvement.

The system should be determined on an individualised case rather than single source evaluations. The system is arbitrary, rather than based on reason or sense.  A sixth forms that is good could effectively apply for provision that it has never delivered and has no track record by the outcome being based purely of an Ofsted grade. How is this fair? Especially as universities that are not subject to Ofsted can apply.

There has to be a review in order for there to be a level playing field set.  In addition to this the college has a restructuring agreement that severely restricts the college’s opportunity to spend its own cash; which means it is restricted to an annual capital limit of £1.3 million and a cash sweep being applied for any over performance so not allowing the college to build any significant future cash reserves to re-invest in students.

What chance does the college have of positioning itself as a college for the future, when simply held back by its past.  Two years ago the college secured a ‘fresh start’, that clearly isn’t the case if it’s past determines its future.

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