The quality of education at sixth form and general further education colleges has hit a record high, FE Week analysis of latest Ofsted data has revealed.
Top ratings for independent training providers have, however, begun to fall.
FE Week analysis of inspection grades shows that 100 per cent of the 44 sixth form colleges in England had an ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ Ofsted rating as of August 31, 2022 – 13 percentage points up on the same period last year.
And 88 per cent of general FE colleges achieved a grade one or two in their most recent inspection – 11 percentage points up from the 77 per cent achieved in 2021.
The findings are expected to feature in the education watchdog’s annual report for 2022, due to be published on December 13. They show that colleges are faring better under Ofsted’s education inspection framework which puts more emphasis on the quality of education rather than data.
College sector chiefs have been buoyed by the figures.
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the data “reflects the extraordinary efforts made by staff and students in the sixth form college sector”.
“For every sixth form college to be judged as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ is remarkable, particularly given the disruption caused by Covid. We are proud to represent such a high performing sector,” he added.
More than 30 sixth form colleges have converted to academy status since this became possible in 2015, at which point they get their Ofsted grade wiped. The SFCA does not think this process has impacted the proportion of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ sixth form college grades, however.
A spokesperson from the Association of Colleges said there are several possible reasons for the increase in ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ general FE college grades, including the merging of weaker colleges with better performing colleges and college groups, as well as “this cycle of focusing on those with historically poorer grades, which lots of hard work has gone into turning around”.
However, the AoC warned government that historic underfunding risked impacting on quality and provision, and stressed that properly funding colleges would protect future delivery.
Elsewhere, 96 per cent of adult community education providers secured a grade one or two in the most recent inspection – up four percentage points on 2021, while the numbers of 16-to-19 academies in the top two grades at their most recent full inspection were up six percentage points to 98 per cent.
In addition, 79 per cent of independent specialist colleges were in the top two grades – up four percentage points on last year, despite less than half of those inspected in the 12 months up to the end of August receiving an ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’.
Independent providers suffer
However, while three quarters (75 per cent) of independent training providers were in the top two inspection boundaries as of August 31, that figure had fallen four percentage points on 2021.
The proportion of private providers with the top two Ofsted grades sat at 75 per cent in 2019, the point at which Ofsted’s new education inspection framework came in, and grew to 77 per cent in 2020, then 80 per cent in 2021.
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said Ofsted inspections of ITPs were heavily weighted towards new providers.
“In fact, over three-quarters of ITPs inspected in the last year hadn’t previously had a full inspection and only 63 per cent of these were subsequently good or outstanding,” she said.
“This drags the overall figure for all independent training providers lower and dilutes the full story of how the range of independent training providers are performing.”
Hickie added that it was positive to see nearly half of the ITPs previously rated ‘requires improvement’ that were visited last year progress to ‘good’ or better.
Prisons remain a problem
While sixth form colleges and general FE colleges celebrated rising figures, the ratings for prisons and young offender institutes remained problematic.
Ofsted’s data showed that of the 22 inspections Ofsted contributed to in the 12 months to the end of August, 21 received one of the bottom two ratings.
All but one of the 116 prisons or young offenders institutes have a rating, with just 37 per cent judged ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ – nine percentage points down on 2021.
Jon Collins, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, said it was “extremely concerning” and “not good enough”.
He said that prison education remained “chronically underfunded” with severe shortages of prison officers and teachers, as well as facilities not being up to scratch, a lack of digital technology and prisoner teachers too often feeling undervalued.
He added: “The education select committee, the prison inspectorate, and Ofsted have all highlighted the need for urgent action. This data shows that if we carry on as we are education in prison will continue to deteriorate and learners will not get the opportunities they need.”