Too many learners not getting the quality they deserve

27 November 2012

Responding to the publication of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s first Chief Inspector’s Annual Report for Ofsted, NIACE is concerned that too many learners are not getting the level of quality and support that they deserve. The report showed that over 1.5 million learners are in provision judged to be not yet good.

NIACE joins with Ofsted in its concerns about the quality of provision and agrees that the minimum standard for adult learners should be that provision is good or better – the figure of one in every three learners in the sector not attending this type of provision is disturbing. The reasons for this are complex and will require changes from Government, the funding agencies and from colleges and independent providers themselves. NIACE supports the need to improve accountability, leadership and governance and has been working with the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the 157 Group, as well as with Government, to support a transformation in these areas. It is clear that there is excellence within the further education sector, with 65% of colleges and providers judged to be good or excellent. NIACE would like to see that figure growing rapidly so that all learners can benefit fully from their learning.

NIACE also supports the need to ensure that the right incentives and funding systems are in place to support good and excellent learning. NIACE is still keen to ensure that the Innovation Code is used widely in order to provide the type of flexible, but purposeful provision, which meets the Ofsted ambitions of learning which is both useful and has an impact. More needs to be done at local level to support needs – analysis linked with economic and social growth before we can be assured that learning is truly useful and having a positive impact.

It is disappointing that in too many cases the quality of teaching is judged to be not good enough. More work is needed within the further education sector to address this finding and to develop a culture within the sector of continuous professional development and quality improvement.

The report highlights that the numbers of adult learners on learning and skills programmes in 2010/11 has fallen by nearly 11% to just under 3.2 million. Ofsted identifies that much of this is a decline in Level 1 courses with an increase in adults participating in full Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications. NIACE would be concerned if this signalled a retreat from the first steps learning which is essential for many adults who need the most support to get back into learning.

Penny Lamb, Head of Policy of Development at NIACE, said:

“There is much for the sector to reflect on in this report. Local accountability, governance, quality and relevance are issues of prime importance to all providers as they negotiate the changing world of skills and employment on behalf of their learners. Concerted action is needed now as there are far too many adults not getting the quality provision they deserve. Providers need the flexibility to respond to what learners both need and want; and Government must ensure that the right incentives and funding systems are in place to support good and outstanding learning.

NIACE agrees with the approach that judging providers on their success rates alone is poor proxy for the attainment of real skills that are valued by employers. We also agree that sustained employment is a key outcome and hope recent announcements on the links between the employment and skills systems will support our members in this. We would further state that the value of adult learning is shown as wider outcomes are important for communities, to improve health and civic engagement, alongside employment outcomes. We call for inspection practice to embed this approach.”

Joyce Black, Head of Life Skills at NIACE, said:

“We support the priority of English and maths and welcome the focus for embedded learning and applying functional skills in order that learners retain and use their skills, rather than just teaching to the test. The need for initial teacher training and ongoing CPD is critical for all staff to make this a reality.

NIACE calls for the funding system to enable providers to take a flexible and learner needs driven approach for those at the lowest level where functional skills and employability are not necessarily the starting point.”