Press release

How colleges improve

Strong governance, leadership and self-assessment is key to college success, says new Ofsted report.

The report was commissioned by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) and Ofsted to highlight how colleges can build on best practice and ensure the education and training they are providing is at least good or outstanding.

Successful colleges shared the same characteristics centred on strong governance and management as well as a clear vision and direction. The determination and drive of senior leadership teams in making sure their visions, values and culture were embedded in the ethos of their colleges, were evident in those that were outstanding or improving quickly.

National Director for Learning and Skills, Matthew Coffey said:

This report highlights the effective practice of successful colleges in raising standards as well as examining factors which can lead to decline. This review should be used as a guide for college governors and staff to disseminate good practice, helping them to understand how to improve performance and overcome barriers that may lead to decline.

Successful colleges always had strong leadership and management and the importance of this cannot be underestimated. All the elements of this report are inextricably linked to the actions and behaviours of leaders and managers and the example they set. In outstanding and improving colleges staff were more willing to accept change and could easily describe what their college stood for. As a result leadership teams were better placed to act decisively to tackle underperformance and secure improvement.

LSIS Chief Executive Rob Wye said:

This report confirms that the importance of outstanding leadership and management, underpinned by informed governance, cannot be underestimated. It is also clear that robust and honest self-review and reflection is a vital ingredient of any provider’s improvement journey. The evidence in this report confirms what many will have thought for a long time: that the best colleges are those where the teaching, learning and assessment delivers excellent results which match the needs of learners, employers and the local community.

LSIS commissioned this report to ensure that we all gained a thorough understanding of how colleges improve. LSIS is focused on improvement across the sector and there is much for other providers, as well as colleges, to consider and learn from this report.

Good and outstanding colleges were not afraid of the self-assessment process even if it was self-critical as they understood it was integral to both their and the college’s improvement.

While there was no single explanation as to why colleges underperformed there were often many interrelated reasons and common features. Often there was complacency, and lack of ambition, direction and vision from senior staff. Too often leaders and managers were overly preoccupied with finance or capital buildings projects to the detriment of promoting good teaching and learning or developing the curriculum.

Self-assessment reports in weaker colleges were often over-optimistic and lacked critical insight, which brought about limited improvements. This was often also coupled with a defensive inward-looking approach, where colleges were slow to accept change or act when data showed decline.

Weaker colleges were often made up of a higher proportion of temporary staff who were not properly managed either due to weak lines of accountability or weak performance management processes.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

  2. The Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) is the sector-led body formed to accelerate quality improvement, increase participation and raise standards and achievement in the Further Education (FE) and Skills sector in England. LSIS is dedicated to working in partnership with all parts of the FE and Skills sector in order to build on the sector’s own capacity to design, commission and deliver improvement and strategic change as well as sustain self improvement. LSIS is responsible for developing and providing resources that help colleges and providers implement initiatives and improve quality. This is achieved by commissioning products and services, identifying and sharing good practice throughout the system, and providing tailored programmes of support.

  3. Media can contact the LSIS Press Office through 024 766 27943 or 07929 016781 or email

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