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Ofsted needs to act on the concerns of colleges, says AoC

31 May 2024

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Colleges welcome the opportunity to have their say in the debate and discussion about how Ofsted inspections operate, the AoC has said as Ofsted’s Big Listen consultation closes today (31 May).

In response to the consultation, AoC has said that it hopes that the inspectorate will act on the concerns of colleges, and offered its support in ensuring Ofsted is a positive part of quality improvement in the college sector.

Colleges raised concerns that Ofsted inspection reports are too vague, the quality, knowledge and credibility of inspectors varies, and there is too much inconsistency in judgements.

The AoC also raised issues with the communication process, evidence gathering, and a lack of focus on equality, diversity and inclusion.

The response has been drafted in collaboration with the 202 AoC member colleges and is based on their reflections and concerns around Ofsted inspections. The Big Listen was launched by His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Martyn Oliver, with the promise of transparency and openness to rebuild and strengthen confidence in Ofsted and inspection.

Gemma Baker, AoC Area Director and Senior Policy Lead (Ofsted) said: “As of the summer 2023, the majority of colleges were judged to be good or outstanding for overall effectiveness at their most recent inspection. However, it’s clear that there is a real strength of feeling across colleges that Ofsted needs to change for the better. Our members have a broad range of concerns, but are particularly determined that Ofsted reports, inspector expertise, and consistency in judgements need to be dramatically improved.

“We hope that Ofsted takes this consultation response seriously, and as AoC, we are keen to support the inspectorate to make the changes needed to ensure Ofsted is a positive part of quality improvement in the college sector.”


AoC said that reports are currently too short, vague and that the language, vocabulary used and limited word count often does not reflect accurately the experience of inspection nor the culture of the college. It proposed that a quicker turnaround of draft Ofsted reports, shortened from 19 days to 10, could support the mental health and wellbeing of staff.

AoC urged Ofsted to discuss with the DfE and other regulators the impact that single-word judgements can have on unrelated areas of college activity and access to capital funding.

Colleges also said that inspection judgements are inconsistent across the country, with attendance figures deemed good in one provider, is not deemed acceptable in another.

Inspection practice

Colleges raised concerns about the quality, knowledge and credibility of inspectors, who are simply not experienced enough in the area, type of learning or type of institution they are inspecting. AoC urged Ofsted to provide high quality training for inspectors to ensure that the diversity of the provision and of the learners in colleges is fully appreciated and celebrated.

There is a lack of clarity on what inspectors are looking for and what evidence they use to make a judgement. The ‘snapshot’ view does not reflect on the progress made prior to inspection, with no consideration for newly implemented strategies to develop the college going forward.

The support and development provided by Ofsted to colleges was also questioned, and AoC pointed towards the Further Education Commission team, and asked if the watchdog should consider a similar greater qualitative, supportive and developmental improvement mechanism.


AoC questioned how Ofsted could measure attendance at colleges accurately, when there is no national data set or standardised measure of attendance across FE. It also queried how Ofsted could judge good progress on English and maths resits without a national benchmark for what good results look like across colleges.

AoC suggests that there is a strong argument for Higher Technical Qualifications to be inspected by Ofsted. However, there would need to be a very clear line between the inspection and regulation of HTQs and Office for Students regulation and quality oversight of other HE to avoid overlapping and confusing inspection and oversight arrangements.

There needs to be a greater emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion underpinning inspection, and AoC suggests that Ofsted can play a crucial role in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in teaching and learning within FE colleges by evaluating the effectiveness of college policies and practices in these areas.


Colleges who complain say that they feel their concerns aren’t properly listened to, understood or dealt with, and the complaints procedure, appeals, administrative support and communication channels between the provider are slow, opaque and unimpactful.

AoC urges Ofsted to be more transparent in all areas of inspection, including on the data and information used to plan the inspection timetable and how the framework is interpreted during the inspection.

To read AoC’s full response, including issues raised around SEND, safeguarding and ITE, click here.

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A full A-Z of further education can be found here, and a cheat sheet of key policies and issues in FE can be found here.