Amanda Spielman presented her second annual report as Ofsted’s chief inspector this morning.

She used it to highlight improvement in overall FE outcomes in the face of funding pressures, as well as concerns that the apprenticeship levy isn’t being used as intended.

FE Week has the nine key findings for FE and skills providers.


  1. Full inspections are down but overall outcomes are up

Ofsted carried out 329 full and short inspections of FE and skills providers this year – down from 392 in 2016/17.

Of these, four per cent resulted in an ‘outstanding’ rating, 66 per cent ‘good’, 24 per cent ‘requires improvement’ and six per cent ‘inadequate’.

That means that 70 per cent of providers inspected this year were rated at least grade two – an increase of one per cent on last year’s outcomes.

FE Week revealed last month that full inspections carried out by Ofsted in 2017/18 plunged by a third.


  1. Fewer, larger colleges are improving – and it’s not just because of mergers

A higher proportion of general FE colleges are now rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ than last year – from 67 per cent to 76 per cent, as revealed by FE Week last month.

But there are also fewer colleges than in previous years – 178 at the end of 2017/18, compared with 189 in 2016/17 and 207 the year before.

According to today’s report since September 2015 a total of 94 colleges, sixth form colleges and other providers have been involved in mergers.

While this may in part explain colleges’ overall improvement, today’s report notes the increase in the number of colleges boosting their grades from three to two – 18 out of 26 inspected in 2017/18, compared with eight out of 20 in 2016/17.


  1. Many merged colleges have yet to be inspected

Of the 178 general FE colleges at the end of 2017/18, just 140 had been inspected.

The vast majority of those yet to be inspected – 37 out of 38 – were newly merged colleges.

Ofsted policy is to treat merged colleges as new providers, meaning they’re given up to three years before they receive a full inspection – a rule that has prompted criticism for allowing mergers to be an excuse for turning a blind eye to failure.


  1. Concerns about the impact of funding on FE remain

Amanda Spielman’s commentary on today’s report continued her previously-raised concerns about the impact of funding pressures on FE, which she said “has borne the brunt of austerity when it comes to education”.

“We are concerned about the financial sustainability of the college sector, and the clear impact that real-term cuts to FE funding can have on provision,” she said.

Ofsted’s published reports, inspection evidence and insights indicated that colleges were having to make cutbacks in a number of areas including the “number of teachers, trainers and/ or support staff; teaching hours allocated to some courses; and the range of courses and enrichment activities offered to students”.

She reiterated concerns over colleges that were recruiting learners, particularly at level two, for courses without good employment prospects.

However, she noted: “It is understandable that colleges are trying to recruit as many students as possible.”


  1. Standards are falling at private providers, but numbers are rising – fast

The proportion of independent training providers to be rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their most recent inspection fell – from 81 per cent in 2016/17, to 78 per cent in 2017/18.

Of the 115 inspections of ITPs – including employer providers – carried out during the year, 42 resulted in a grade three or four outcome.

Of those inspected for the first time, the proportion found to be ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ was almost two-thirds – a similar proportion to last year.

While standards are slipping, the number of ITPs in scope for inspection has risen sharply – from 490 at the end of 2016/17 to 990 at the end of 2017/18.

The increase, which today’s report says is due to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, means that 55 per cent of ITPS have yet to receive their first full inspection.


  1. Most apprentices are at good or outstanding providers – despite concerns over quality

Two-thirds of apprentices were following courses at providers rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at the time of inspection, today’s report has shown.

“This was because the good and outstanding providers were generally training larger numbers of apprentices,” it said.

Ofsted inspected 110 apprenticeship providers this year, of which 58 per cent were found to be grade one or two for this type of provision – an increase of nine percentage points from 2016/17.

Despite this, today’s report highlighted some concerns about poor apprenticeship quality.

The inspectorate’s new early monitoring visits to new apprenticeship providers, of which 88 were carried out in 2017/18, had revealed “common issues around poor governance, low-quality teaching and not enough time for off-the-job training”.

“The people who suffer as a result are the apprentices themselves, who finish their programme without the knowledge and skills to succeed in the workplace,” the report warned.

It also highlighted a number of “high profile” cases of poor apprenticeship provision among big, established providers, including one “that had swiftly recruited apprentices over the past year was not providing apprenticeships that were fit for purpose”.


  1. Subcontractor quality is mostly good

Ofsted’s increased reporting on subcontracting, introduced from February this year, has found most subcontracted provision was good.

Out of a sample of 30 inspection report, inspections found two thirds of providers were managing their subcontractors effectively – and a similar proportion were “delivering good quality provision”.

A further 25 inspection reports commented on the progress of learners with subcontractors: in three-quarters of cases learners with the subcontractor were progressing at the same pace, and achieved their qualifications at the same time, as learners with the main provider.


  1. Standards at sixth form colleges and adult and community learning providers are up

The proportion of adult and community learning providers to be rated at least good at their most recent inspection has gone up five percentage points – from 83 per cent in 2016/17, to 88 per cent in 2017/18.

A total of 81 per cent of sixth-form colleges were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their most recent inspection by the end of 2017/18 – a one percentage point increase from the year before.

But there are now only 61 SFCs – down from 90 two years ago – as the remainder have either converted to become a 16 to 19 academy or merged with a college.


  1. Apprenticeship levy is being spent on ‘rebadged’ graduate schemes

The chief inspector amplified Ofsted’s concern that too much apprenticeship levy funding is being spent on higher levels, and not enough on lower level programmes for young people.

Read more: Ofsted annual report warns apprenticeship levy being spent on graduate scheme rebadging


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