Original post at http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/17/ofsted-colleges-inspections-peer-review-further-education
recently announced it's going to stop graded lesson observations in
colleges as part of a pilot scheme from September 2014. The news follows
a report by the University and College Union that raised serious questions on whether the practice of grading lessons was fit for purpose.
Although I welcome the decision, the problems with further education and Ofsted
run much deeper than lesson observations. If we are going to truly
improve the quality of provision in colleges, we need a complete
overhaul of the system.
One of the key problems is that colleges are inspected by the same
body as schools. Inspectors visiting colleges do not necessarily have
experience of working in the sector and many lessons are observed by
people with no specialist subject knowledge of what's being taught.
Before 2007, when the Adult Learning Inspectorate had authority over
colleges, this was not the case. When Ofsted took over, the unique
nature of further education was disregarded. As colleges continue to
diversify, moving into higher education for example, this is becoming a
growing problem. You cannot grade the delivery of such a rapidly
changing sector against one set of criteria. Higher education is inspected separately and there's no reason why colleges should be treated any differently.
There are many problems in further education – there's a lack of
collaboration, staff training needs to be improved and there's a
reluctance to try new things. But Ofsted's not solving any of these
issues, and at times it's making them worse. For example, although the
sector is diversifying, some colleges are afraid to explore new avenues
because they're worried they won't work out as planned and they'll be
criticised for it.
Instead of Ofsted being in charge of inspecting colleges, I'd like
them to be self-regulated with strictly moderated peer inspections. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF),
which was set up in August 2013, should play a central role in
objectively supporting colleges to improve. The organisation's aim is to
"support colleges and training providers in achieving their own
improvement objectives" – a goal all of us the sector can really get
behind. Also, the foundation's recent acquisition of the Institute for
Learning puts them in the perfect position to develop college staff and
rather than have week-long inspections, which can easily miss both
flaws and good practice, it would work better if staff from three
colleges spent time at another college to review the quality of its
provision for half a term. Trained by the ETF, they would work together
to determine what's working well and what needs to be improved. Data
would still be an important part of assessing a college, but it would be
submitted to and monitored by the foundation.
Reports would remain in the public domain and the commissioner could
still intervene to help colleges in trouble, but the number of cases of
this would probably reduce as people with real expertise would be
helping colleges to improve. And with staff spending so much time
getting to know the ins and outs of how a college works, there would be
much less chance of places trying to cover up weak areas.
In addition to these compulsory reviews, colleges could request
visits from people who have the expertise in an area where they know
they are falling short. What's great about this collaborative approach
is that, as well as being able to advise their peers from a position of
experience instead of authority, people would be able to take back
lessons they've learned to their own college.
Rather than putting colleges on the defensive, it would enable them
to work in partnership on a regular basis and create a culture where
sharing best practice is the norm. A longer inspection would also help
staff to feel more relaxed. Every provider can run on adrenaline for a
week, but not for six. The longer observation period would make for far
more accurate reports and colleges would have a much better idea of
where they needed to improve.
do not lack expertise, but they do lack the time and opportunity to
share their knowledge. As well as improving the overall provision of the
sector, it would provide ample opportunities for staff development. Not
only would the staff visiting other colleges get the chance to see lots
of new ideas, tutors could take on short-term management roles while
their line manager is away on a visit.
If peer review was introduced, there would of course be many details
to work out to ensure that it was properly regulated. But just because
an idea is complicated, it doesn't mean it should be dismissed. Ofsted
isn't working – it's stifling the sector and we need a change. We've got
so many talented people working in further education, why don't we work
together to make the most of their expertise?
Jayne Stigger is a further education manager in the south east
with a focus on students, science, technology, engineering and maths,
and staff development.