Speech

Ofsted conference 2013

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Matthew Hancock to Ofsted Her Majesty's Inspectors

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today. I’m particularly keen to come here because I have a simple message: you matter. The job you are doing matters, and it’s vital you do it right. You are a vital part of our ambitious reforms across academic and vocational courses. You matter to me, to pupils, to the future of our nation no less - and I want to take a few minutes to explain why.

Half of 16 year olds enter the vocational education system but in the past the need for vocational education to be inclusive has removed the focus on the need for quality.

We need a vocational education system that is rigorously high quality, motivating people with any level of prior attainment to get the skills they need to reach their potential and prepare them for working life, so that it becomes the norm for school leavers to go to university or into an apprenticeship.

This drive for quality is an enormous challenge for the skills system.

While the top students in colleges are as well served as the top in academy sixth forms, the average is lower and the tail of poor performance much longer.

90% of young people who leave school without a C or higher in both English and maths have still not reached this level by the age of 19.

Businesses cannot find young people with the right skills. Just today James Dyson set out how he could employ more young people if they had the right skills. Our reforms will and must rise to that challenge.

We are doing this through a relentless focus on improving rigour and responsiveness to employers needs.

We need rigour to improve the quality of vocational education, which has been ignored for too long. The academic reforms that this government has implemented are essential to ensuring GCSE and A levels give young people the right skills and knowledge. We now need to bring that same resolve and ambition to vocational education, driving up quality and with it the esteem in which technical qualifications are held.

And we need providers to be responsive to employers needs, not to central command and control. We have given colleges the freedoms and flexibilities they need but this is not enough. Autonomy for providers must be matched with accountability.

So our vision is rigour and responsiveness, delivered by autonomy and accountability.

And that’s where you come in.

There are three ways to hold providers to account:

First, we are giving learners the information they need to make the right choices. By providing high quality and timely information to learners about schools, colleges and training providers, students can make an informed choice about which providers suit their needs and aspirations. We are focusing more on progression and value added - on where a course gets you - instead of completion rates so that providers put their time and energy into helping learners progress onto the next stage of their career.

Second, we are implementing new and tough minimum standards. These minimum standards will force providers to drive up the quality of their classroom provision, workplace provision and apprenticeships. Alongside these minimum standards, we are taking a much closer interest in the financial performance of colleges to ensure that learners are protected.

Third, we are using a tougher intervention regime across the sector. I am delighted to see Sir Michael Wilshaw and yourselves taking an ever-increasing interest in the quality of skills providers. Within skills there is some outstanding provision, as your inspections have already shown, but there is still too much provision that is falling short of what is required. So I am increasingly using Ofsted grading to determine access to funding. You cannot access funding for our new traineeships unless you are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. I believe that this puts the right incentives in place for providers. The new Further Education (FE) Commissioner, who reports to Ministers, will challenge failing FE colleges and institutions over their capacity and capability to improve, and in cases where the college or institution cannot deliver, we will take tough action. Your role in providing evidence to support action, whether from inspections or monitoring visits, will be crucial.

So our three core accountability tools - high-quality information, minimum standards, and tougher inspections - rely on the ability accurately measure quality. This becomes even more critical as we begin to base our funding decisions on the judgements of Ofsted.

So it falls to you to deliver tough but fair judgement on vocational courses.

Tough in that you don’t let up on need for high quality and high expectations in vocational provision.

Fair, recognising that excellent vocational learning can be different in nature from academic.

We know that government itself must also deliver on its promises if we are to promote successful and aspirational vocational education.

We have removed poor value qualifications at 14 to 16, and are now removing them at 16 to 19. Our new qualifications, including Tech Levels, will be more rigorous, developed according to standards set by employers and have widespread recognition and transferability. The new Tech Bacc will be a central feature of our future accountability system.

Excellent vocational education and training must keep pace with, and actively develop, new learning technologies. We look to you to support the skills system to embrace these technologies, and to understand the value they bring to learning and the learner experience.

We are redesigning our apprenticeship system following Doug Richard’s review earlier this year. Our upcoming reforms to apprenticeships will lead to higher quality employer-led provision in the workplace, while Nigel Whitehead’s review will ensure adult vocational qualifications are fit for purpose.

Alongside our major reforms to apprenticeships, we have recently launched traineeships for those who cannot yet hold down a job, but are within six months of being able to. We expect traineeships to play a major role in tackling NEETs and supporting Raising the Participation Age (RPA).

I believe that these reforms together with the work of Ofsted can genuinely transform FE into a rigorous and responsive sector.

I would like to thank all of you for the dedication and commitment that you put into your work in FE and beyond. I know that the role of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs) is demanding and requires a special range of qualities, so thank you for the professionalism and commitment that you bring to this role and I look forward to seeing the impact of your work in the coming months and years.