The identities of six new Ofsted regional directors have been announced following a shake-up aimed at driving up provider standards.

Each regional director will report directly to Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw and will be responsible for quality of inspection in their region along with the improvement of standards in childcare, schools, and learning and skills.

The announcements came the same month as Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw told MPs on the Education Select Committee that schools were improving, but there was a “real problem in learning and skills”.

“The regional directors will be my voice in the regions with the necessary autonomy and authority to support providers and challenge underperformance,” he said on the new appointments.

Sir Michael’s comments to the select committee saw him clash with the Association of Colleges (AoC).

Flanked by Mr Coffey, he said the system for failing schools was different to that faced by colleges.

‘They need to start worrying more about what’s happening in Deptford rather than Delhi’”

“I think one of the reasons why schools are improving their performance but colleges aren’t, is that there are very clear consequences to failure and underperformance in the schools sector,” said Sir Michael.

“If a school becomes inadequate and remains so, the head usually goes, something usually happens to the governing board … etc.

“We don’t sense there’s that same sense of clear consequence for failure in the FE sector.”

Sir Michael’s claim drew a swift rebuttal from Joy Mercer, AoC’s director of policy.

“The consequences for failure in a college, for instance, are comparable to schools — governing bodies regularly hold senior management teams to account for performance,” she said

But Sir Michael won Ms Mercer’s approval with plans to bring school careers guidance under the inspection remit, but reiterated fears that college principals had lost focus on the quality of teaching.

“Getting principals of colleges to focus on what’s important is absolutely critical. They lost their way a bit and focussed on capital investment, extending their reach, building programmes, going abroad to attract students and so on,” he said.

“All those things are important, but equally, if not more important is what’s happening in the workshop or the classroom — as an eminent ex-principle said to me ‘they need to start worrying more about what’s happening in Deptford rather than Delhi’.”

Meanwhile, with a government announcement on the funding of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) next month expected to include a single pot of cash taking in the adult skills budget, Mr Coffey said he wanted to see FE representation on LEP boards.

He also expressed fears the FE sector was not ready for the raising of the participation age (RPA), and that funding problems had been “at the heart” of many college problems.

“Funding has been at the heart of many problems we’ve identified and the report does pose the question ‘is the system fit for purpose?’ Its main reference point is the financial incentives have all been wrong; they’ve led to very low level qualifications being delivered across the board to a wide number of students” said Mr Coffey.

Ofsted’s new regional post-holders are Sally Rowe for the North West; Nick Hudson for the North East, Yorkshire and Humber; Louise Soden for the Midlands; Sean Harford for east of England and London; Mr Coffey for the South East, in addition to his role as current national director’s role; and Lorna Fitzjohn for the South West.

See page 6 for 157 Group executive director Lynne Sedgmore’s take on Sir Michael’s FE views

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  1. The final line up of regional directors will not be finalised until September when interim London director Sean Hartford hands over to Debbie Jones, currently Director of Children’s Services in Lambeth. The idea of regions goes back to the FEFC days for colleges, where there were both good and bad points for a regional approach to inspection and support.

    With all the negative press about the performance of London colleges and the corresponding positive press about London school improvement it is a shame that the London Director has not got a Learning and Skills background. There is an awful lot of really good practice in London colleges but the size and complexity of what is offered in a college is very different to that which is offered in a school. Although it has become all too easy to pick on colleges it is conveniently forgotten that they are often trying to correct the short fall in the education that their students received in schools, particularly in maths and English. Hopefully the support on offer from Ofsted will draw on best practice across the country and not become compartmentalised, as is a danger, in regions. A thriving FE sector is crucial to economic recovery. Hopefully in two years time there will be more positive pronouncements about the perceived health of colleges.