Ofsted has handed out its first “limited” rating for skills contribution, as part of recently introduced enhanced inspections of colleges.
Strode College received an overall ‘good’ Ofsted rating this week following a visit by inspectors in early October, but scored the lowest rating possible for its work to meet skills needs.
Enhanced inspections for colleges launched in September this year and includes an assessment of how well the college is contributing to addressing skills gaps in the local, regional and national economy.
The outcome of this assessment is not subject to a separate report, but included as a part of the overall inspection. Inspectors dish out one of three ratings for the skills contribution section – limited, reasonable or strong.
Strode is the fourth college report to be published with the additional skills section, but is the first to get a “limited” rating.
Two of the others – Derwentside College and Sandwell College – were given “reasonable” and one – Newham College – received a “strong” rating.
A spokesperson from Strode College said: “Extended EIF [education inspection framework] criteria are very precise and the failure to meet one of the criteria sufficiently, is effectively a limited grade. The college has made significant strides within the local community within the last few months, culminating in a new strategic plan, which was approved by the board in September 2022.
“Ofsted acknowledged the amount of work and direction of travel that the college had made in a short space of time, but despite best endeavours it was unfortunately unable to successfully meet all the criteria.”
Ofsted’s updated handbook said a college’s skills contribution will be judged to be limited if inspectors did not consider leaders to have engaged enough with employers and other key organisations like local enterprise parnerships; did not involve employers and relevant bodies in the design and implementation of the curriculum; were not clear how they contributed to skills needs; or did not teach students the skills they needed.
Colleges are given a week’s notice to line-up chats between inspectors and key stakeholders in the local skills economy it works with, such as local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce and employers.
Evidence gathering includes conversations with college leaders, meetings with stakeholders and employers, and information in published documents, such as college skills plans and local skills improvement plans.
Strode College said it struggled to get organisations to talk to inspectors at the right time, and said there had also been some confusion on what was additionally required in the new inspection framework compared to the previous one.
In its report, Ofsted recognised that governors had only recently published a new skills strategy for the college, and said “leaders do not yet ensure that they identify the full range of employer and stakeholder needs, in order to make a sufficient contribution to meeting these in a way that benefits the locality and region”.
It highlighted a new English and maths functional skills curriculum for staff at Yeovil District Hospital to gain qualifications to move into more senior roles.
But the report continued that skills gaps in existing manufacturing, digital, construction, electro-technical and transportation businesses “are starting to be identified” but actions were “yet to have an impact”.
Inspectors said learners did develop their skills well, but employers were not involved enough in the design and implementation of the curriculum.
It did, however, praise leaders for being informed of major capital projects underway in Somerset and how the college could best contribute to those, including training programmes in the £23 million Glastonbury Town Deal projects.
While Strode College was rated ‘good’ overall, this was a downgrade from the ‘outstanding’ it received in 2014. It appears the rating was brought down by provision for learners with high needs, which was judged to be ‘requires improvement’.
Ofsted’s handbook says the skills evaluation is a “sub-judgement” that feeds into its assessment of quality of education and leadership and management. Despite Strode receiving a “limited contribution” on its skills contribution, its quality of education and leadership and management ratings scored ‘good’.