New Engineering Foundation (NEF) has responded to an Ofsted consultation, providing several recommendations on areas of action to improve college's performance. Through its unique position as a non-government funded charity, NEF can provide impartial advice and recommendations on such consultations.
Ofsted visit educational institutions annually and inspect their capabilities to deliver educational provision. In assessing the performance, Ofsted use a common inspection framework, and NEF feel that it is important for Ofsted's inspection criteria to certify that educational institutions are supporting and contributing to economic prosperity.
In response to this consultation on proposals for changes to the way Ofsted inspects further education colleges, NEF has made several recommendations, emphasising that the scope of inspection be widened to include such areas as: understanding how colleges can help generate prosperity and offer better employment opportunities to their learners and communities.
With a need for community specific opportunities to be generated, it is also important that the standard of qualifications remains high and grades are not just provided to everyone, even if they do lead to immediate jobs. It seems there are few inspection criteria to encourage engagement with local businesses, which only serves to limit the use of knowledge exchange and horizon scanning to promote further economic growth. NEF has recognised the need to encourage FE colleges to engage further with industry, and our Industrial Fellowship Scheme provides a unique opportunity for lecturers to engage and update their technical development through industrial placement.
The NEF feel there is a need for an initiative to view inspections as a learning tool to drive improvement and for increased thematic reports particularly on the provision of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). We feel that it is vital to understand whether the qualification attained in the establishment is a true preparation for the next step in the candidate's career, and not just a broad spectrum achievement which allows them to attain a sustainable job. It has been raised by the NEF that focussed courses which produce and nurture the specific attributes required by the local community could benefit the economy and that the learners themselves will benefit in being able to find employment which utilises the skills and knowledge gained by the qualification process.
There is a call from many organisations, which the NEF is echoing, for the improvement of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) for students. We feel it is important that Ofsted qualify the quality of IAG in colleges, particularly to address the shortfall of skills and career information relating to the STEM subjects. According to several studies, there is also a well-recognised lack of diversity in the participation of STEM, particularly at technical levels and this is another area that the NEF has highlighted. There has not been any significant and sustained change to the gender ratio in technical level STEM courses and employment (1.1% are female in 2008, a change of +0.1% since 2003). IAG and other communication techniques are just a few ways that the NEF feel a solution could be offered to this issue.
The NEF supports the continued focus on the quality of teaching and learning and on the effectiveness of leadership. Our question is the extent to which inspection can be an aid to innovation. We offer opportunities for FE providers to become more effective, innovative and higher-achieving organisations through: STEM in Development, STEM Assured, NEF Diamond and Active Leadership and Innovation. Ofsted are represented on the NEF advisory Panel and NEF will continue to work closely with Ofsted to ensure that colleges continue to develop employer led, cross-curricula STEM provision that meets the need of local, regional and national economies.
New Engineering Foundation
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