How are outcomes for learners judged in the further education and skills sector?

  • Robert Rees

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


My study analyses how inspectors use success rate, value added, attendance, progression and destination data to evaluate student performance and to make judgements on outcomes for learners in further education colleges. Ofsted (2017) acknowledges that there is little empirical evidence about the validity of inspection judgements. My previous experience suggests that inspectors approach and interpret data inconsistently. To date, hardly any research into this aspect of inspection has been published. I analysed 165 further education college inspection reports from inspections that took place between September 2012 and July 2015, along with the publicly available success rate data the inspectors would have used to evaluate student performance. For aspects where data is not collected centrally, this was obtained directly from colleges within the scope of this study. Data are analysed using approaches that reflect the ways in which Ofsted uses numerical information. My findings indicate that there is (often considerable) disparity between the success rate data and the judgements made by inspectors, and that the use of the national success rate average as a foundation from which student performance is assessed is inconsistent. I further suggest that, because most of the data (other than success rates) is generated by the individual colleges in the absence of any national guidance, inspectors are not able to compare one college with any other objectively. Moreover, not all inspection reports make judgements to the same criteria, with too many reports missing key judgements. This evidence indicates that there is a lack of transparency about which student groups are included or excluded from the data used by inspectors to inform their judgements. I therefore conclude that the consistency with which inspectors use data and information to evaluate student performance and make judgements on outcomes for learners, ‘requires improvement’, and suggest how this situation might be improved.
Date of Award11 Sep 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorBridget Egan (Supervisor) & Kerry Ball (Supervisor)


  • inspection
  • further education
  • Ofsted
  • accountability
  • outcomes
  • accuracy
  • consistency
  • success rates

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