I hate to say it, but the writing is on the wall for the General Further Education (GFE) College as we know it. Ofsted’s Annual Report has painted a seriously glum view of the sector. Crippled by cuts since Conservative Government austerity measures, yet expected to deliver the same quality to those in society that are most in need, yep that’s us.
It’s telling that only 35% of GFE colleges inspected this year have achieved good or better. Looking at the current state of GFE colleges, one could be forgiven for thinking that the 77% good or better isn’t such a bad reflection. Note, this is as per last inspection and there are many that haven’t been inspected for years. I know of one that hasn’t had an inspection since 2009 (over 6 years). We’ve had two CIF’s since then! I am also aware that that their success rates have declined and they are probably in a similar position to many others that haven’t been inspected for a while, so it will come as no surprise when more and more colleges are graded as RI or inadequate. Further to this, out of 48 inspections this year, 16 colleges graded as RI or inadequate previously haven’t improved, with 16 colleges regressing a grade.
Do I believe that only 35% of teachers come into work to deliver great lessons? That only 35% of managers are well organised and performance managing effectively? That only 35% of learners are getting good value for money? I don’t want to, but am under no illusion that GFE colleges are providing a service that is stretched. I wonder to what extent Ofsted are aware of how demoralising it is when you are given a RI or inadequate. Take the demoralisation associated with that, then add years of redundancies, increased workloads, loss of holidays and pensions, and you have a workforce that is unlikely to be able to provide an amazing service. Is there any wonder there has been a regression?
The notion of being funded based on success rates has now passed, but the whole thing has left a bitter legacy in the mouth of FE. During this period, many unethical practices took place to drive up success rates (i.e. putting learners on lots of short courses and other underhand data manipulation tactics) and though now a retention based funding model, the expectations of success that existed previously are still there, not least because success rates are used by Ofsted in part to judge a college. The FE sector has really created a ‘rod for its own back’. Expecting outcomes to meet benchmark is challenging enough in this climate. It should be commended, not criticised. The whole ‘success rates having to be 3% above benchmark to be considered Good’ is a bizarre concept and one has to wonder where this ends?
Add to the aforementioned the area based reviews, which are doing nothing more than shrinking local provision and with it further job losses. Then there are the FELTAG recommendations which are being abused by some colleges to cut staff hours rather than embracing the ethos of the report. I genuinely can’t see things improving. Yes we got through the recent budget relatively unscathed (pending the small print), but come the next budget, I think we will see the landscape of FE change drastically. I’m not claiming to be an expert in this. I try to keep abreast of changes, but for what it’s worth, I’m just a teacher – a teacher trying to do a great job in a tough climate. Ofsted’s Annual Report feels like just another blow to the badly beaten body of GFE colleges.
You know, the sad thing is that we have hundreds of thousands of (often under privileged) learners that could suffer if we were to lose the GFE college as we know it. This will leave a generation of potentially poorly skilled workers, unable to thrive in a global economy. Nice one!