WorldSkills UK national finals 2023

Welcome to this special souvenir supplement bringing you the full results and insights from the 2023 WorldSkills UK national finals in Greater Manchester.

The finals showcase the pinnacle of technical skills among UK students and apprentices, but there’s a lot more to skills competitions than winning medals.

Find out why Greater Manchester was the perfect host city region for this year’s finals, how learning from abroad is raising technical training standards at home, and get the very latest on how WorldSkills UK’s Centre of Excellence programme is transforming teacher CPD.

AoC 16-18 recruitment survey ‘reveals major concerns among college leaders’

Half of colleges have seen a drop in enrolment figures, with the blame partly placed on the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

A survey by the Association of Colleges (AoC) of 182 colleges shows 49 per cent are reporting falling numbers of 16-19-year-olds, compared to last year.

It also shows a national drop of 0.1 per cent, the first time in 15 to 20 years the figure has fallen, with 46 colleges reporting a dip between five to 15 per cent.

Colleges believe unaffordable transport, combined with the abolition of the EMA and increased competition for student numbers among school and college sixth forms, have been the main causes for a decline.

The survey is further evidence supporting the findings from two surveys – conducted by Lsect – and published in FE Week. The first showed that 105 colleges forecast an initial total shortfall of 20,319 students for this academic year.

Key AoC survey findings:

  • Half of the 182 colleges that responded are seeing a drop in 16-19 students, with 46 colleges reporting a significant dip of between five per cent to 15 per cent
  • Of those reporting a decline, colleges say the end of EMAs for students in the first year of the course, competition from other providers, lack of affordable transport and cuts in funding per student were the main factors
  • A decline in Level 1 courses (pre-GSCE and basic skills) was reported by 41 per cent of respondents
  • 51 per cent of colleges said that their student numbers have increased or remained stable
  • 60 per cent of colleges reported a drop in transport spending by their local authority
  • Over half of all colleges are ‘topping up’ Government bursary funding with their own contributions and the same proportion are spending more on subsidising transport this year than last
  • 79 per cent of colleges agreeing that free meals in colleges for 16-18 year olds (currently not available, unlike in schools) would encourage participation.

Fiona McMillan, president of the AoC and principal of Bridgwater College in Somerset, said that at her own college EMA provided students with about £1,000 per year. Now, there is only £152 per year available for students.

She said: “We are all aware that funding is tight. But these young people are our future and we must consider our investment in them.

“We would all regret a situation where young people miss out and then become the so-called lost generation.”

Ms McMillan said the new 16-19 bursary, which replaced the EMA, is “better than nothing” but in terms of what it provides, “there is a big gap”. To cope, her college – like many others – has subsidised the cost.

She is also concerned colleges will miss out on vital funding, adding: “We are paid by our student numbers. So it’s an important issue for us.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said some of the changes could be due to demographics – with a drop of 40,000 in the 16-18 age group. He added: “It is a complex picture. The decline in college enrolment by students on Level 1 courses may be partially explained by improvements in school teaching.

“What is clear is a significant number of member colleges are concerned that financial constraints are preventing students from pursuing preferred courses at their institution of choice and there is a risk of vulnerable groups becoming disengaged from education.”

Andy Forbes, principal at Hertford Regional College, said they are “about five per cent down” on 16-18 enrolment from last year.

He said: “We’re now projecting a figure of just under 2,600 against our target of 2,719.

“We have experienced a particular decline in Level 2 enrolments and at the furthest reaches of our catchment area, which stretches quite a long way.”

Mr Forbes believes there are two factors to blame, adding: “The withdrawal of EMA and the cost of transport from the two ends of our catchment.

“We were not helped by late arrival of concrete information on what funding we had to compensate for loss of EMA and how we could use that funding, which made it difficult to put financial support in place for students and publicise them effectively.”

He also said colleges need to work harder to get the message across about the “exceptional quality of provision” they offer, in the face of “growing competition from schools” expanding sixth forms by offering vocational courses.

He added: “The decline of independent careers advice isn’t helping young people make good choices at 16 and we in FE are going to have to be a lot more active in ensuring school pupils and parents are made positively aware of the alternatives to staying on at school.”

However, the Department for Education spokesman (DfE) said there are “record numbers of 16 and 17-year-olds” in education or training.

He said: “There has been a massive increase in apprenticeships for anyone over 16 to learn a specific trade – 360,000 places in all available in more than 200 careers.

“And we are strengthening vocational education so young people will have high-quality courses open to them which are valued by employers.”

The spokesman also said: “We are targeting financial support at students who need it most to get through their studies – through the new £180m a year bursary fund, with further transitional support available for those students who were already drawing the EMA.”

Gordon Marsden, Shadow FE and Skills Minister, said the “alarming figures” show the impact of the government’s policy to scrap EMA. He said: “The government has left FE colleges facing a double whammy at a time of real economic uncertainty.

“Not only are college finances jeopardised by falling enrolment numbers, but they face the strain of having to try and address the post EMA funding gap, putting extra administrative burdens on them at a time where they claim to be setting them free.

“The government needs to get a grip urgently with a strategy that will help, rather than hinder, FE colleges in addressing young people’s employment and skills needs.”

AoC said they will repeat the enrolment survey in September 2012.

Click here to download the study and here to download the AoC press release.

LCG case latest: DfE defends overruling AEB tender scores

The Department for Education has batted away claims that it unlawfully overruled the scores of a major group of training providers in the latest adult education budget procurement. 

Revised defence documents were filed by DfE lawyers on Friday in response to fresh allegations raised by Learning Curve Group (LCG) and its seven subsidiary training companies last month. 

LCG launched a High Court case in August demanding a re-run of the £75 million procurement after all eight of its bids were unsuccessful. They claimed that the department breached its duties under procurement regulations in its evaluation of their bid, and were “deprived of a reach chance of winning a contract”. 

The case rests on a row over Learning Curve’s Q1B1 submission – a template for bidders’ mobilisation and delivery plan which the DfE said should have included forecasts for training courses and learner numbers. A strict two-page limit was in place on the template, and bidders needed to score of at least 75 (good) to be successful. 

DfE claimed the group’s submissions did not include the necessary detail to achieve a high score for Q1B1, namely an explanation of how their plans align with corresponding “volumes and values and spreadsheet”. LCG allegedly recorded forecasts for learning aim starts for sector subject areas rather than courses. 

LCG countered this following sight of voluntary disclosure material which showed DfE’s evaluators scored their Q1B1 response as ‘very good’ – a score of 100. The material also revealed that non-evaluators were responsible for downgrading LCG’s response from ‘very good’ to ‘satisfactory’ – a score of 50. 

Learning Curve also claimed that a “reasonably well-informed and normally diligent tenderer” would read and evaluate Q1B1 alongside the volumes template that was previously denied by DfE. 

But DfE has now admitted that “a reasonably well-informed and diligent tenderer” would have understood that the mobilisation plan and the volumes template would be read – but not evaluated – together. 

DfE’s fresh defence admits that the procurement evaluators “failed to apply” the award criteria for that crucial question because of the alleged missing information. As a result, the usual “consensus score” process, where two evaluators agree on a final score for a question, did not apply and the lower ‘satisfactory’ score was decided by a moderator. 

The “major gap” in information, DfE claimed, meant LCG’s response couldn’t score higher than ‘satisfactory,’ contradicting the evaluators’ original judgement. 

DfE lawyers maintain overruling evaluators’ scores in this way was lawful because the moderators “applied the published award criteria” to LCG’s submission through its quality assurance process. 

It was also revealed that moderators intervened to revise Q1B1 scores for other providers’ bids. 

LCG alleged that voluntary disclosure documents showed that the department evaluated Q1B1 responses from different bidders “on an inconsistent and unequal basis”. 

DfE confessed to this in its latest defence. It said: “It is admitted and averred that the evaluators originally evaluated different bidders’ responses to Q1B1 on
an inconsistent and unequal basis. The defendant accordingly sought to remedy that failing in quality assurance, which it did.” 

LCG declined to comment. The case continues.

Overseas FE teachers exempt from new immigration earnings thresholds

FE teachers from overseas will be exempt from the government’s new minimum earnings thresholds for visas, FE Week understands.

Home secretary James Cleverly unveiled plans earlier this week to cut down on net migration by increasing the minimum salary required for foreign workers to apply for a skilled worker visa by 48 per cent to £38,700. 

Certain occupations on national pay scales, which includes teachers in schools, further and higher education, would continue to be exempt from the new higher earnings threshold and be eligible for a visa if earning at least £26,200, according to Home Office guidance. 

Under guidance published in 2021, overseas FE teachers can apply for a skilled worker visa if they can speak, read and write English; are employed by a licenced Home Office employer sponsor; and the role pays at least £20,480 or the relevant minimum rate for FE teachers in England – £20,508 for an unqualified lecturer.

Applicants can also be recruited into FE if they have the following visas: a graduate visa, a youth mobility visa, a family visa, or a skilled worker visa.

Current FE workforce data from the Department for Education does not specify the visa status of staff in FE. Yet, the gap in FE recruitment remains large and sector leaders say that more effort must be made to fund colleges and training providers if the government wants to increase reliance on domestic workers.

At the end of the 2021/22 academic year, there were 5.4 vacant teaching positions across all FE providers per 100 teaching positions. 

Ministers lined up to defend the migration reforms, claiming they would encourage businesses to invest more in training for domestic workers.

Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister days after the reforms were announced, said: “My message for big business is it is not right that they reach for the easy lever of foreign labour in the first instance – we want them to be improving and investing in British workers,” he said.

But FE leaders have flagged rigid benefits rules, low education funding rates, and low teacher pay as obstacles.

Emma Meredith, director of skills policy and global engagement at the Association of Colleges, told FE Week: “If the government is serious about filling vacancies it will need to invest more in colleges to open up opportunities for all people in the UK to train.

“That requires better funding rates so that colleges can attract and retain expert staff, more places for adults to learn flexibly whilst working, and more opportunity for people in receipt of Universal Credit to get the training they need.”

Other reforms included overseas health and social care workers not being allowed to bring in dependants, and applicants of family visas will have to declare a minimum salary of £38,700.

Simon Ashworth, director of policy at AELP, said these restrictions will make it harder for employers to attract candidates.

“The government clearly wants UK nationals to upskill but this once again highlights the need for a joined-up national skills strategy. Now, we’re left asking how can we train our own adult care workers when the funding rates are so low that it’s uneconomical for providers to deliver?

“As an absolute minimum, all apprenticeships should be funded at a rate of £5,000 per annum and the government needs to urgently look again at the exit requirements for apprenticeships. Perhaps then we might see the country able to fill its skills gaps,” he said.

Meredith agreed, and added that the migration changes could harm key sectors on the DfE’s priority list such as engineering, construction, digital and health and care.

“The skills bootcamps are part of the answer, but much more needs to be done over the long term to reverse the severe cuts to learning and training opportunities we have seen over the last decade and more. In 2003, there were 5.5 million learning opportunities in England for adults, now there are fewer than 1.5 million,” she added. 

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are investing an additional £3.8 billion over this Parliament to boost access to a range of skills offers. This includes continuing to offer a range of Skills Bootcamps, free courses at Level 3 and working with employers to create more apprenticeship opportunities so businesses have access to the skilled workers they need.”

Migration reforms include:

  • Increasing the salary threshold for a skilled worker visa to £38,700
  • Overseas teachers exempted from the salary threshold
  • Reducing the number of occupations and review the “shortage occupation list”
  • Scrapping 20 per cent salary discount for jobs on shortage occupation list
  • Health and social care workers exempt from salary threshold rise but banned from bringing dependants
  • Increasing the minimum income for family visas to £38,700, from £18,600
  • UK citizens must earn £38,700 to bring in dependants
  • Minimum income for family visas raised to £38,700 to bring dependants in

College ‘surprised’ at inspection just a year after ‘good’ result

A college group has been left shocked after being downgraded to ‘requires improvement’ just a year after it was judged as ‘good’ by Ofsted.

The TEC Partnership – which teaches over 6,500 students across several campuses in the Yorkshire and Humber region and Lincolnshire – was inspected in May 2022 and handed a grade two in a report published two months later.

Ofsted’s inspection handbook states that FE providers judged ‘good’ will “normally be inspected within five years of the publication of their previous inspection report”.

But the TEC Partnership received another call from the inspectorate in September 2023, during the busy student induction and enrolment period. Inspectors then conducted a three-day inspection between September 26 and 29, and published an overall grade three verdict this week.

A spokesperson for the TEC Partnership told FE Week the college group was “very surprised” by the timescale and resulting judgment, adding that there is an “emotional toll” attached to each inspection.

“We were repeatedly told there had been no trigger and it was within the usual inspection cycle as we were due an enhanced inspection,” a spokesperson said.

“We are very mindful of the emotional and organisational toll that an inspection takes on staff; particularly in September when we were in the throes of student induction and enrolment, and so soon after the previous inspection.”

Ofsted launched “enhanced” inspections of colleges in September 2022, which involves judging each college’s contribution to meeting “skills needs”. It has a commitment to inspect all colleges between September 2022 and 2025 using the “enhanced” inspection regime.

Ofsted reiterated this pledge when FE Week asked why the watchdog chose to reinspect the TEC Partnership within 15 months of its last ‘good’ inspection. A spokesperson added: “We use a broad range of information to assess risk and performance when selecting providers for inspection.”

The grade three report for TEC Partnership judged the college group as ‘good’ in every theme barring leadership and management, which was deemed ‘requires improvement’ and led to the same rating being applied overall.

Ofsted’s latest report said leaders have “recently developed a renewed vision and carried out a restructure of the organisation with the aim of developing a standardised and efficient partnership approach to their operation”, which includes approaches to “quality assurance, safeguarding and business support functions”.

However, the watchdog warned “too many” of the actions taken to achieve this “have not been implemented rapidly or effectively enough”. Staff have been left “uncertain about the reasons for the changes or what will happen next, and many express dissatisfaction with the approach that leaders are taking,” the report said. 

Inspectors noted that across all TEC Partnership campuses, teaching and support staff work “hard to ensure that learners and apprentices receive a good quality of education”.

However, “too many” staff have “heavy schedules”, are “having to cover teaching vacancies” and have “high workloads”.

On top of this, while Ofsted found safeguarding to be “effective” it warned there are “inconsistencies” in this area across the college group’s different sites.

A TEC Partnership spokesperson said: “The report acknowledges that plans are in place and being delivered successfully and this seems at odds with the timeframe for the inspection and the grade profile for leadership and management.”

The spokesperson added that staff are “absolutely right” to raise issues around increasing workload due to staff shortages, which is a nationally recognised issue in education.

“Staff shortages due to difficulty in filling vacancies is our number one risk, as we explained to Ofsted, and we are doing all we can to address this,” they added.

“Since the inspection, improvements have been made to the salary scales for teaching roles in November and further improvements are being recommended to the board next week. All of this was planned before the group was re-inspected, as we were already very well aware of the challenges the sector faces.”

The spokesperson said the TEC Partnership has been through a period of “unprecedented but necessary change” since the inspection in May 2022, adding that the group is “fully committed to improving and are actively listening to staff concerns through additional engagement processes”.

Ban graduates from apprenticeships, says think tank

University graduates should be banned from becoming apprentices, a former government skills adviser has said.

The radical proposal is one of ten ideas put forward by EDSK, run by Tom Richmond, in its new report on addressing “neglected” routes for young people who don’t pursue an academic pathway through education.

The report is provocatively titled: “Broken ladders, why the ‘ladder of opportunity’ is broken for so many young people, and how to fix it”.

Skills minister Robert Halfon frequently uses the phrase “ladder of opportunity” in public speeches when describing government policies on technical education and apprenticeships.

The graduate ban would, the report argues, prevent apprenticeship levy funding being spent on “highly qualified existing workers” and protect spending for young people not following an academic path through education.

This comes following concerns that the apprenticeship system is becoming increasingly dominated by white-collar professionals on expensive, higher-level courses while the numbers of young people and lower-level apprenticeships are in decline.

“The simplest way to prevent apprenticeship funding being used on highly qualified existing workers is to ban anyone who holds a university degree or equivalent qualification from starting an apprenticeship,” EDSK said.

“This would protect apprenticeships as a route for those who do not want to follow an academic pathway after age 16 but without unduly stifling the breadth of opportunities available across the apprenticeship system, and without disrupting the wider operation of the employer-led levy funds.”

EDSK said young people who don’t go to university are comparatively “starved of political and financial investment” despite just 37 per cent taking three A-levels at school or college.

At the same time, job prospects have “stagnated” with 12.3 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds in England not in education, employment or training (NEET), the same rate as in 2000, but down from a peak of 16 per cent in 2010.

Tom Richmond, a former government skills adviser, and now director of independent think tank EDSK, said: “Maintaining the well-trodden route from school to university cannot and should not come at the expense of the majority of young people who want to pursue other career options.

“Regrettably, our report shows that the first rungs of the ladder of opportunity for many school and college leavers are now broken and urgently need to be repaired.”

‘Purist’ position

However, training bodies lashed out at graduate apprenticeship ban plan.

Mandy Crawford-Lee, chief executive, University Vocational Awards Council, criticised EDSK’s “purist” position that “‘proper’ apprenticeships should be designed to meet the needs of under-served young people”.

“From a 2023 standpoint, we should dismiss the false notion that apprenticeships are the only suitable for school/college leavers unable to reach the ‘academic’ standards needed to take them to university,” she said.

And Simon Ashworth, director of policy at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, thought the idea would “significantly restrict employer choice”, arguing instead for a larger apprenticeship budget for “proper incentives to support young people access life-changing apprenticeship opportunities”.

EDSK also examines pre-employment training opportunities for young people and recommends redesigned versions of Kickstart and traineeships.

Kickstart was a temporary job creation scheme during the pandemic which paid employers to hire 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit who were at risk of long- term unemployment.

A new Kickstart-style scheme should be introduced which is targeted at young people under age 21, those without a university degree, care leavers, or young people in contact with the justice system.

EDSK’s proposed new traineeship model would see trainees paid a £100 allowance and employers offered up to £5,000 in incentive payments. They would be attached to occupations to encourage progression to jobs or apprenticeships.

An equivalent “young traineeships” scheme should also be introduced providing 50 days’ work experience a year for 14 to 16-year-olds.

New English and maths qualifications that are linked to the 15 technical education routes should be launched to tackle the “adverse impact of GCSE resits and generic functional skills qualifications”.

Exam boards should be allowed to develop the new level 2 courses with half of the curriculum drawn from the existing functional skills syllabus, and the rest geared towards the relevant industry.

“This approach would allow the government to continue with their current level-based approach to setting English and maths requirements but would ideally mean that fewer students are prevented from pursuing their chosen occupation or apprenticeships due to inappropriate curricula or unnecessary learning goals,” the report said.

The government should also commission an independent review of T Levels to consider ways to improve take-up. EDSK suggests the review could look at ways to reduce the size of the flagship qualifications and re-model the foundation year to look more like a traineeship.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Under-25s continue to make up over half of all apprenticeship starts which will play an essential role in boosting our economy, creating jobs and transforming people’s lives.

“We are investing billions, so every young person has access to the high-quality education and training they need to succeed and continue to promote the range of exciting technical opportunities available to young people.

“Our new Advanced British Standard qualification will also make sure all young people get the opportunity to study a mix of academic and technical subjects, alongside continuing to study English and maths.

“So young people gain vital work experience, schools and colleges are required to offer every pupil at least one experience of a workplace by age 16, and a further experience by age 18.”

‘Inept’: Make UK speaks out after suppressing Ofsted

Manufacturing giant Make UK speaks out about “unjust” cliff-edge inspections after gagging a fatal ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report that turned into a ‘good’ just nine months later…

“They were inept, inexperienced and the wrong team who didn’t know what they were doing”, Make UK chief executive Stephen Phipson says when asked to describe his company’s first of three Ofsted inspections conducted this calendar year.

“If we hadn’t fought them, we would have closed down our training division on the back of what was a wrong judgment. That is unjust. How many other private providers have closed in the past because of a wrong inspection? That has got to be the question.”

Phipson was speaking to FE Week on Wednesday, hours after Ofsted published a glowing grade two report for the manufacturing representative organisation that trains almost 1,000 apprentices.

It came months after a different inspection team visited the provider in January and planned to slam it with an ‘inadequate’ judgment, which would have likely led to the Education and Skills Funding Agency kicking Make UK out of the apprenticeship training market.

The company, formerly called the Engineering Employers’ Federation, quickly lawyered up and was granted a judicial review after spending over half a million pounds on legal fees.

FE Week understands the January inspection team accused Make UK of delaying student progress due to a lack of qualified staff, poorly run courses such as failing to provide relevant materials for welding students, and failing to offer a programme that was tailored to students’ existing abilities.

The most significant allegation made was around safeguarding, namely that there was “misogynistic behaviour”.

“That was unfounded”, Phipson said. He told FE Week Ofsted based its misogyny allegation on an interview with two female apprentices that his team felt was “leading the witness” and extrapolated the view across the whole organisation. He said that the apprentices later denied ever using the word “misogyny” and claimed they said they didn’t even know the meaning of the term.

Ofsted’s grade two report for Make UK was wholly positive. Apprentices feel “safe”, “comfortable” and are “respectful to their peers,” the report said.

It also lauded leaders for providing “high-specification industry standard tools and equipment”, and said tutors are “highly qualified” but recognised there are “challenges with the recruitment and retention of staff”.

Phipson puts the January inspection outcome down to “incompetence” rather than malice.

For example, inspectors focussed on the apprenticeship standards offered by Make UK that have the smallest numbers of learners, rather than the level 3 engineering technician apprenticeship standard which most apprentices work towards.

“The inspectors simply didn’t understand the apprenticeship standards we offer properly,” Phipson said.

“Most of the inspectors had never seen this kind of engineering environment. They were people that inspect schools at the end of the day, and this was a very different thing for them. These are not children, these are adults in a factory setting.

“They were surprised at what welding looks like, you know, surprised at the ways that you have to physically train apprentices, which we’ve always done, and got very good results from.

“It raised a lot of alarm bells. We felt like we needed to give the inspectors a week’s training on what an engineering environment is like before they come in and inspect it. There seems to be a lack of real understanding.”

Make UK “rigorously” challenged the January inspection through Ofsted’s complaints process, which the inspectorate admitted this year was “not working” and is currently being reformed, but “got nothing out of it” which forced the firm to go legal.

The company was granted a judicial review on six grounds and a hearing was scheduled for November. 

Ofsted conducted a mandatory follow-up monitoring visit of Make UK in August and identified positive provision. It then, off its own back, decided to run a full reinspection of the provider in October.

The watchdog then pulled out of the judicial review hearing at the eleventh hour for an undisclosed reason.

In the weeks leading up to the court case, Phipson’s lawyers warned him he had less than a 50 per cent chance of winning, and if he managed to it would set a high precedent for further judicial reviews against the inspectorate.

So why did Ofsted back away?

FE Week understands at least one inspector has been suspended during the proceedings. But Phipson claims Make UK has no idea why Ofsted stood down, but suspects it is a tactic.

“The honest answer to that is we don’t know. Something must have happened. But they left it up until the eleventh hour before they pulled out, which I suspect is always their legal tactic.

“If you look at most private providers, they haven’t got the resources to fight a legal battle against Ofsted, it’s expensive. You have got to employ good lawyers, the first challenge you’ve got is actually getting permission from a court to have a judicial review. So that in itself, I can tell you, was a mountainous task. 

“All the private providers we speak to, they’re doing 100 or 200 apprentices, there’s no way they can employ hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of lawyers. We’re in a different position, because we’re a much bigger organisation, and we weren’t going to have any of that nonsense, because that really was outrageous what they [Ofsted] did. 

“So I think what they do is they try and time you out, they take you right up until the court day almost, to see if you’re in or not.”

Phipson said the reinspection team, which was completely different to the January team, was “professional, experienced and knew what they were doing”.

“We had what you would classify as probably a model Ofsted inspection experience. It was great. This is the way it should have been all the way along.”

Summarising the experience, he said the whole year has been “nerve-racking” for his team.

“It’s been mentally stressful for them. They’ve gone through three Ofsted inspections this year. Can you imagine that?”

He said the overriding issue points to the fact that Ofsted inspections are a “point in time” judgment which is “unfair”.

“You can’t do a spot check on things once every five years. The modern way of doing assessments is continually assessing performance. And Ofsted must modernise and move to a position where there’s a continuous process of checking, inspecting, and not having a negative view on it but a view to try to help people to improve.

“Ofsted should be looking for ways to assist these organisations to improve their delivery of education, not just looking for black spots on a white sheet of paper once every five years.

“For independent providers, if you get a grade four ESFA withdraws your funding. There’s not enough light that’s been shone on the plight of people that invest their own money, only to have it taken away by a three-day visit. There’s got to be a better way of doing it.”

Ofsted declined to comment.

Ruth Perry: Ofsted plans training to spot ‘visible signs of anxiety’

Ofsted has announced plans to train all inspectors on dealing with anxious staff and when to pause visits after the Ruth Perry inquest reached its conclusion.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman has apologised to the family of headteacher Ruth Perry, after an inquest into her death recorded a verdict of suicide, contributed to by an Ofsted inspection.

From next week, a new complaints hotline will be set up for education settings to report any concerns about their inspection to a senior Ofsted official.

Spielman said Ofsted had already “made changes to the way we work” and “we will do more”, also pledging to “work hard to address” each concern raised by the coroner.

School inspections planned for next week will be delayed by a day as lead school inspectors are called for an urgent briefing. This session will be schools-focussed, with inspections of FE providers going ahead as planned.

But, there will be wider training inspectors across all of Ofsted’s remits.

Spielman said: “The coroner highlighted a number of areas of concern. We will work hard to address each of these as soon as we can, and we are starting that work straight away.

“We have started to develop training for all inspectors on recognising and responding to visible signs of anxiety.

“It’s right that we inspect first and foremost in the interests of children, their parents and carers. But in the light of Mrs Perry’s sad death, it’s also vital that we do all we can to minimise stress and anxiety when we inspect.”

The coroner in the inquest into the death of Perry warned there is a “risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this”.

Heidi Connor, who concluded Perry died in January by suicide, contributed to by an Ofsted inspection, plans to issue a “regulation 28” report aimed at preventing future deaths, and urged education secretary Gillian Keegan not to ignore its findings.

She said she hoped her conclusions and report “will be used by the parliamentary inquiry process to review how inspection should work going forward”.

Keegan said the government would “consider further changes to make sure we have an inspection system that supports schools and teachers, and ultimately secure Ruth’s legacy”.

Perry was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Berkshire when it was rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors following the visit last autumn.

Under regulation 28, coroners have a “duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths”.

Connor said she wanted to “consider the statistics about responses to these reports by government departments”.

But she told Perry’s family “Ruth is not a statistic to me, so please forgive me for mentioning this point briefly”. 

She pointed to a “preventable deaths tracker”, created by an Oxford epidemiologist, which “shows a tendency for some secretaries of state to ignore coroners’ regulation 28 reports”.

“I very much hope that will not be the case here.”

System ‘not weighed against teacher welfare’

The report will highlight seven areas of concern for Ofsted and the Department for Education, including the “impact on leader welfare that this system will continue to have”. 

Connor said “any form of inspection or review will always be inherently stressful”, and that she had “taken that into account in reaching my conclusions”. She added that “nobody would dispute that safeguarding is important”.

But she warned transparency and “ease of message to parents” was “not currently weighed against teacher welfare. The benefits are focused on without taking account of the risks.”

She also noted an “almost complete absence” of Ofsted training or published policies on dealing with signs of distress in leaders during inspections.

Ofsted has been repeatedly criticised for its response to Perry’s death. Last month, Spielman claimed critics had used the tragedy “as a pivot to try and discredit” Ofsted’s work.

Connor said Ofsted’s “approach has been to make public statements in court, setting out their view on whether Ruth’s death was linked to the inspection and how it was carried out”.

“They have publicly described this tragedy as a pivot, used to try and discredit what Ofsted does. This is without any attempt to analyse the evidence more carefully. There is a risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this.”

Keegan will consider ‘further changes’

Keegan said Ofsted was “fundamental to making sure children are safe and receive the education they deserve”.

“Together we will look closely at the coroner’s recommendations to consider further changes to make sure we have an inspection system that supports schools and teachers, and ultimately secure Ruth’s legacy.”

She added that “my heart goes out to Ruth’s family, friends and the school community. Her death was a tragedy that not only shocked the local community but also the wider sector and beyond.”

Samaritans are available 365 days a year. You can reach them on free call number 116 123, email them at or visit to find your nearest branch.

Education Support runs a confidential helpline for education staff and teachers – call 08000 562 561. 

Birmingham college recovers after four ‘requires improvement’ results

A Birmingham college is celebrating a “turning point” with a ‘good’ Ofsted result after four consecutive ‘requires improvement’ judgments.

Birmingham Metropolitan College has gone through a turbulent period since entering government intervention in 2015 after serious financial issues came to light.

In the same year the college was downgraded to ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted. It was then handed that same grade in further full inspections in 2017, 2018 and 2022.

The college was upgraded to ‘good’ in a report published today that praised a “culture that promotes diversity and inclusivity”, well-sequenced curriculums, and overall “high-quality provision”.

Pat Carvalho, principal of BMet since 2019, said this “significant achievement” marked a “milestone” and “turning point” in the college’s journey.

“This ‘good’ rating is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our entire team who have been tirelessly working to enhance every aspect of our college, and it’s gratifying to see our efforts come to fruition,” she said.

“We are all quite simply thrilled, this is not just an Ofsted rating; it’s a milestone on our journey to ensuring we provide high-quality education and training for our students, apprentices and the wider community.”

The college has three sites and teaches 4,725 young people, 166 learners with high needs, 2,916 adult learners and 736 apprentices.

Ofsted said learners and apprentices find college campuses to be “safe and respectful environments, which are inclusive and welcoming”. Leaders and managers have created a culture that promotes diversity and inclusivity.

They learn in “well-resourced, high-quality and industry-standard classrooms and workshops”, and “most” teachers are “appropriately qualified and have high levels of industry experience”.

Governors are “confident and constructive in their engagement with the executive team”, Ofsted found, adding that governors “are aware of the college’s weaknesses and support leaders’ actions to rectify these”.

Leaders have also implemented “effective subcontracting arrangements to ensure a high-quality provision”. They “maintain close oversight and undertake detailed scrutiny of all subcontractor work through robust quality assurance and monitoring arrangements,” inspectors said.

BMet entered government intervention in 2015 after it racked up £14 million in exceptional financial support and debts of £23.4 million. Its 2022 Ofsted inspection found the college’s long-term structural and financial issues were now resolved.

However, its accounts for 2022 show a £3.38 million deficit – mostly caused by the write-off of several assets due to refurbishment costs dating back several years – and that its financial health rating dropped from ‘good’ back into ‘requires improvement’.

However, the college plans to improve back to ‘good’ financial health in 2023/24 due to “improved cash generation”, the accounts added.

5 things we learned from Keegan’s education committee hearing

The government won’t confirm its deadline to rid every school and college of crumbly RAAC until the new year, Gillian Keegan has said.

The education secretary said she would not give a “definitive date” until mitigations to make every education setting safe were complete, adding that her department “expects there to be more” cases identified.

Keegan made the statement during a hearing with MPs on the House of Commons education committee today, in which she was also quizzed on the Department for Education’s guidance on gender recognition, proposals for the new Advanced British Standard and teacher recruitment in further education.

Here are five takeaways from the session:

RAAC: ‘We expect there’s more’

The DfE confirmed 231 schools and colleges have potentially dangerous crumbling RAAC concrete, in an update published this morning

The total added three more FE colleges to the list: Abingdon and Witney College, Barnet and Southgate College and The Oldham College. Ten colleges have now partially closed campuses due to RAAC.

Keegan told MPs the DfE has received all questionnaires back from every education setting but expects they will identify more schools and colleges with RAAC as they further investigate.

“They’ve all had the first survey and 231 currently have confirmed RAAC. Now we do expect there will be some more because as we go back for follow up survey work, we will identify a few more,” Keegan told MPs.

She added that she won’t give a deadline to rid every school and college of crumbly RAAC until the new year.

“We will be able to give you a definitive date when all schools are safe because that was my very first objective.”

Pressed by MPs, Keegan said this would be “very shortly”, but not before Christmas, calling the expected announcement a “new year present”.

Gender recognition guidance due ‘before Christmas’

The education secretary also said the long-awaited guidance on transgender learners in schools and colleges will “hopefully” be published before the Christmas period.

The “gender questioning” guidance was previously due to be released earlier this summer.

“We had to change that because it is quite a complex area,” Keegan explained.

She added that the guidance will be non-statutory as the department has been “going backwards and forwards and trying to understand how these various layers of law will fit together”.

She indicated that the guidance would cover how colleges can support learners who want to socially transition, as a ban on students socially transitioning at school/college would require changing equalities law.

“I know there’s been other people who’ve called for not having any social transitioning in schools, full stop,” she said. “That would require a change in equalities law and that will be a matter for the equalities minister.”

ABS consultation expected ‘shortly’

Since prime minister Rishi Sunak announced his intention to replace A-levels and T Levels with the Advanced British Standard, MPs and sector leaders have awaited a consultation setting out the details of the new proposed qualification.

Keegan told MPs today that the document, which contains plans for 10 years’ worth of reform, will be released “shortly”. 

The three things it will detail will be having “more breadth in 16 to 18” and extending the timetable of 16- to 18-year-olds in school and college.

The third detail will describe the “breakdown” of the so-called artificial barrier between technical and academic education. 

She added that the document will also expand on the work from the DfE’s maths advisory group.

Upon questions of scepticism of the replacement of the relatively new T Levels, Keegan insisted T Levels will be used as the building blocks of the ABS.

DfE ‘doesn’t underestimate’ the T Level placements ‘task’

Keegan was also pressed on the difficulty of getting businesses to host T Level work placements.

Labour MP Ian Mearns referenced DfE’s own 2022 employer polls showing that not enough businesses are interested in offering industry placements.

Keegan disagreed and added that the department is working with businesses “more and more” but admitted the T Level nine-week work placement has been a “big challenge”.

“The skill shortage in a way kind of helps us and actually, even some of the changes to immigration yesterday, because it basically says to businesses, we have to all work together to develop the pipeline of talent,” she said.

She added: “When there are particular skill shortages, companies do tend to get a bit more strategic and look to try and build the pipeline. T Levels and workplaces are an excellent way of doing that as are apprenticeships because they broaden access to lots and lots of different people. 

“We don’t underestimate the task. I don’t. But I think it’s the right challenge.”

Keegan ‘aware’ of FE recruitment crisis 

During a grilling on the recruitment and retention crisis in school education, conservative MP Robin Walker argued that the recruitment in the post-16 space is “significantly greater”. 

Keegan said she is aware of the challenges, but she doesn’t have a large role in setting salaries for FE staff.

“We don’t have as much role in the setting of the salaries and the scales, but we have provided an additional £470 million across the financial year 2023/24 and 2025/26, to support colleges and other providers with recruitment and retention challenges,” she said.

“We’ve also got the stem and technical shortage subjects will receive those working in disadvantaged schools and colleges in particular, will receive up to £6,000 after tax annually on top of their pay.”

She also skirted questions from committee member Miriam Cates on the recruitment of maths teachers, given the government wants to extend maths education until 18.

Provider that trains 5 apprentices judged ‘inadequate’

An apprenticeship provider that trains just five apprentices has been judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted after inspectors found tutors offering no direct vocational teaching.

Astro Martin Ltd, based in Croydon, began offering the level 2 customer service practitioner apprenticeship to a single employer in Oldham in February 2022.

But inspectors, who conducted a full inspection of the firm in October, found that leaders started teaching the course “without having the staffing expertise to do this effectively”.

The provider was dealt the lowest possible rating from the watchdog in a report published today, which said apprentices are “left too much to their own devices to complete their apprenticeship”.

Tutors require apprentices to complete their apprenticeship through workbooks, which they check at monthly intervals, but they “do not do any direct in-person or online teaching of the vocational aspects of the course” and do not “provide apprentices with feedback on their work”.

“This results in apprentices not knowing what they need to do to improve, or knowing whether they are meeting the standard necessary to pass the end-point assessment,” the report said.

Tutors do, however, support apprentices “well” to achieve qualifications in English and maths and to “prepare for their next career step”.

‘Leaders do not know what actions they need to take to improve’

Companies House shows that Astro Martin Ltd was incorporated in 2013. Its website claims the firm “specialises” in work-based training and vocational qualifications, and has a “proven track record of successfully delivering quality training and development to organisations and individuals”.

Ofsted’s report said leaders and managers have an “overly positive view” of the quality of their provision and are “not evaluative enough in their self-assessment”.

Leaders were criticised for failing to work with employers to make sure that what apprentices learn in off-the job training aligns adequately with their job roles.

Tutors also do not liaise with the apprentices’ employer to “plan the training so that it meets the needs of the employer”.

Instead, they rely on workbooks that are based on the order in which the knowledge, skills, and behaviours are listed in the apprenticeship standard – they “do not adjust this to suit the employer’s or apprentices’ needs”.

There is also “little or no alignment of the training that apprentices complete with the activities that they do as part of their job”, leaving apprentices with “limited ability to apply what they have learned in the workplace and ensure that their knowledge is secure”.

Ofsted criticised tutors for requiring all apprentices to work through the same series of workbooks in the same order, regardless of the prior knowledge or skills they have.

“This contributes to apprentices making slow progress and lacking the motivation to complete their course,” inspectors warned.

The report said leaders “do not have any external oversight of the quality of their provision to help them to have an objective view,” adding that this “means there is no challenge to leaders and managers on the quality of the apprenticeship programme”.

“Leaders do not know what actions they need to take to improve,” the report concluded.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency typically terminates the funding contracts for independent training providers if they receive a grade four from Ofsted.

Astro Martin Ltd did not respond to requests for comment.