College quality and provision recognised
This week Ofsted published its annual report. This is the organisation’s opportunity to give an overview of its inspection results for the past year. The focus of the news reports has been around school performance and the divide between the north and south of the country. One thing that has slipped under the radar is the performance of colleges. As Gill Clipson, Deputy Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) has said, it is disappointing that the number of colleges who have received a good or outstanding grade has slipped from 78% to 77% in the last year. However, we need to look at this in its full context, not least that far more inspections took place during the last year compared to the previous one. This last year has also seen colleges tackle the massive task of providing thousands of young people with GCSE English and maths qualifications. It was clear from the outset that Ofsted would be looking at this provision very carefully. It is a great achievement that despite the funding cuts faced by colleges and the English and maths challenges, colleges have continued to maintain the quality and standards of teaching. Last week's Spending Review announcement from the Government has given colleges some breathing space. The big cuts to 16-18 funding and the adult skills budget thankfully didn't materialise. This, I hope, is down to the work of AoC and colleges themselves in promoting how important they are in to the country's economy. Ofsted has called for a renewed focus on further education and skills and colleges are committed to playing a key role in driving the economy, closing the skills gaps and raising productivity. Part of this will be achieved through apprenticeships. In its report last month, Ofsted rightly recommended that all apprenticeship provision must be high quality and focused on the industries with the strongest demand for a skilled workforce. Colleges are hubs in their local communities, training staff working in small and medium-sized companies as well as large well-known organisations. They deliver more than half of the construction and engineering apprenticeships available nationally. They also provide effective off-the-job training using industry-standard facilities and staff who are experts in their field as well as being trained teachers. Colleges are the key to powering the economy. It's pleasing that their quality and provision is finally starting to be recognised. David Corke is AoC's Director of Education Policy.