Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Good… Better… Best: Ofsted reports how colleges can improve and why some don’t

Strong leadership and clear vision, challenging aspirations and targets, and a thorough process of progress monitoring and self-assessment, are just a number of ways colleges can raise the bar and work towards achieving outstanding status.

The report, How colleges improve: a review of effective practice, published today by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), finds that the further education sector is improving. Over 60 per cent of colleges are now considered good or better at inspection, up from just under 50 per cent in 2001-2005, the first round of Ofsted inspections.

No single strategy for improvement is expected to hit the mark for all colleges. However the report identifies a number of features that are common to those who successfully lifted their standards between first and second Ofsted inspections, from inadequate to good, or from satisfactory or good to outstanding.

It also identifies several factors which appeared to hold back progress in those colleges which did not improve their performance over the two cycles of inspection.

The report finds that a clear vision and mission, promoted throughout the college by positive and supportive leaders, is central to improving learners’ skills and achievements.

The mantra “satisfactory is not good enough”, seen in colleges that had improved considerably, created a strong culture of continual improvement. Rather than just settling for ‘good’, staff and learners strive for excellence, in an environment that supports professional development through well-conceived arrangements for lesson observation linked to the updating of teachers’ skills.

Furthermore, across-the-board monitoring and evaluation is paramount. Ambitious yet realistic targets for retention, attendance and pass rates need to be set, while well-informed governors need to challenge managers on the college’s performance on a continuing basis.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:

“It’s a promising sign that, overall, the further education sector is improving. Many of the case studies found in this review have shown ambitious vision and strong leadership to rapidly improve their standards between Ofsted inspections. I hope they are a source of inspiration to other colleges that still have a way to go in improving their performance.

“It’s crucial, however, that we’re also aware of why some colleges haven’t been improving. This report also considers a number of case studies of colleges that have shown little progress, which helps us identify those factors that are impeding change as well as those that are fundamental to improvement,” added Ms Gilbert. “These recommendations could be a useful checklist when it comes to raising standards in all colleges.”

While strong direction and leadership is a vital key to improvement, the report finds the lack of a long-term or coherent strategy is prevalent in those colleges that have shown a lack of progress. Poor governance and management and a lack of communication about strategic direction are at the heart of most weaknesses in underperforming colleges.

Similarly, those colleges that fail to self-analyse and critically review and refocus their curriculum to reflect the needs of students, or promote social inclusion, have struggled to meet higher standards.



Governors and managers of colleges should use the checklist in the report How colleges improve: a review of effective practice, to review their strategies for improvement.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, together with the Learning and Skills Council, should consider what arrangements are needed to better support college governors in exercising their duties.

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Notes for Editors

  1. This review highlights characteristics of those further education colleges that improved their performance between first (2001-05) and second cycle (05-09) Ofsted inspections. In the sample chosen about 1/5 had improved their overall inspection grade from inadequate to good, and the remainder from satisfactory or good to outstanding.
  2. HMIs visited a sample of 15 colleges, consisting of 12 general further education colleges, two land-based colleges and one sixth form college, in January and February 2008. They also gathered a wide range of additional evidence from published inspection reports.
  3. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted): Since April 2007, Ofsted has the responsibility for the inspection of adult learning and training, the regulation and inspection of children's social care, the inspection of the Children and family court advisory and support service (Cafcass). Ofsted also inspects or regulates and inspects childminders, full and sessional day-care providers, out of school care, crèches, adoption and fostering agencies, residential schools, family centres and homes for children, all state maintained schools, some independent schools, pupil referral units, the Children and Family courts advisory service (Cafcass), the overall level of services for children in local authority areas (through Annual Performance Assessments and joint area reviews), further education, initial teacher education, and publicly funded adult skills and employment based training.
  4. The Ofsted Press Office can be contacted on 08456 4040404 between 8am – 6pm Monday – Friday. During evenings and weekends we can be reached on 07919 057359.
  5. The review can be found on the Ofsted website

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