Press release

Slow start for policy to give colleges more curriculum freedom

Ofsted has published its survey report on Local Accountability and Autonomy in Colleges.

Just over a year after the introduction of the policy, the survey found many colleges are struggling to show the full impact of any changes they had made to their provision with the aim of reducing youth unemployment and supporting local economic growth.

This survey reviewed how well colleges have responded to the government’s policy to give colleges more freedom to tailor their curriculum to meet local and community needs. The report also gives examples of good practice.

In its policy, New Challenges, New Chances, launched in 2011, the government gives the FE and skills sector greater freedoms to ensure their provision is aligned to the business and community priorities identified in their local areas. Just over a year after the introduction of the policy, most of the colleges sampled in the survey had made at least some progress in linking with external businesses and community partners to plan their provision. However, the report found that governing bodies had not monitored these changes rigorously enough.

National Director of Learning and Skills, Matthew Coffey, said:

I am pleased by the good practice examples we have highlighted in this report. However, only three of the 17 colleges inspectors visited had revised their curriculum content and structure considerably to focus on preparing learners better for local employment and enterprise opportunities and to meet identified local, regional and national skills gaps. More worryingly, over a third of those visited did not have sufficient labour market intelligence to help them plan their provision.

Many colleges were able to clearly identify common priorities within their local region, such as, poverty and deprivation, rising unemployment and a mismatch of skills. However, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate how successful they were in supporting progression to further training or employment.

The report identified two main challenges for governors, firstly to hold their college to account for the quality of provision and outcomes for learners; and secondly, to provide fully comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of their college’s response to changing local economic and social priorities.

As well as the policy launched in 2011, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were set up in 2010, as a voluntary strategic partnership between businesses and civic leaders to drive local economic growth. They have the potential to involve colleges much more directly in the strategic planning and commissioning of provision to meet any identified local community and business needs.

However, the report raises concerns that so few LEPs had begun to have a demonstrable impact on local planning and provision. Further education remains under-represented at the highest strategic level on LEP boards. LEPs were not always sufficiently well informed about the extent and range of college provision in their areas. The quality and availability of labour market information in their areas were often patchy, and did not allow colleges and providers to plan effectively and collaboratively to reduce long term unemployment in their locality.

The report makes a number of recommendations to the government including:

  • supporting the learning and skills sector to ensure that it has capacity to meet the challenge of the raising of participation age and the direct enrolment of 14 to 16 year olds in colleges
  • ensuring that funding and other incentives reward colleges appropriately for prioritising provision that directly supports local economic growth and social development
  • ensure measures for learners focus on their progression to training and employment
  • monitor and review work of LEPS to ensure they have a positive impact on reducing local youth unemployment

The report also makes recommendations for colleges, LEPs and governors including:

  • LEPs should work collaboratively with colleges so they can plan services effectively to reduce youth unemployment and meet employers’ skills requirements
  • colleges should provide comprehensive data to governors so they can hold leaders to account and monitor performance more effectively

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.

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