Vocational courses are bridging the skills gap to meet industry needs

Inspectors made over 100 visits to colleges to identify good practice in vocational education and training. The vocational areas that were surveyed comprised business, administration and law; science; engineering and manufacturing technologies; construction, planning and the built environment; and agriculture, horticulture and animal care.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Education, Children's Services and Skills, said:

"Ofsted's surveys of good practice in post-16 education and training highlight and share the very best in a vocational area. These reports provide examples of varied and effective ways of focusing on raising standards in education and training, and enabling progression into employment.

"The best colleges in each vocational area had common features. They all had strong links with industry and related classroom learning to the demands of the workplace. They worked hard to ensure high achievement and retention rates. And continuous assessment of students ensured individuals were placed on the right courses, set appropriate targets, and identified for support when at risk of falling behind."

The majority of the teachers were subject specialists, with considerable industrial, technical and vocational experience. This played a crucial role as teachers' first-hand knowledge helped students to apply theory to practice, develop technical and practical competences as well as the wider skills valued by employers.

Teachers' subject specialisms combined with inspiring and engaging teaching were key factors in maintaining students' interest and progress. Activities such as practical exercises and demonstrations, group work, talks by visiting speakers, industry visits and entry into skills competitions helped to motivate and encourage students and raise standards.

Collaboration with employers and businesses also helped colleges to gain sponsorships or donations of products, tools, equipment and the use of workshops.

Some colleges went further to tailor their provision to meet the needs of employers by providing training on company premises, broadening the curriculum to offer additional vocational qualifications relevant to students' future employability or providing courses in specialist areas.

In all of the colleges surveyed, good or excellent resources and facilities were provided. This enabled students to gain practical experience in using the latest industry standard equipment.

Good leadership and management of the curriculum were evident in the best provision. Well led departments and day-to-day management of teaching, combined with a strong focus on students' achievement and effective self-assessment, helped to raise standards.

The reports, however, also revealed that in the majority of vocational courses, information technology was not used sufficiently well to enhance learning.

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Notes for Editors

1. The five good practice reports can be found on the Ofsted website at www.ofsted.gov.uk

  • Identifying good practice: a survey of college provision in agriculture, horticulture and animal care;
  • Identifying good practice: a survey of business, administration and law in colleges;
  • Identifying good practice: a survey of college provision in construction, planning and the built environment;
  • Identifying good practice: a survey of college provision in engineering and manufacturing technologies;
  • Identifying good practice: a survey of post-16 science in colleges and schools.

2. The five reports were based on visits to colleges where provision in the vocational area had been judged to be good or outstanding at their most recent inspection. The visits took place between 2006 and 2007, and comprised 23 for the business, administration and law report; 18 for the science report; 18 for the engineering and manufacturing technologies report; 22 for the construction, planning and the built environment report; and 22 for the agriculture, horticulture and animal care report.

3. From 1 April 2007 a new single inspectorate for children and learners came into being. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) has the responsibility for the inspection of adult learning and training - work formerly undertaken by the Adult Learning Inspectorate; the regulation and inspection of children's social care - work formerly undertaken by the Commission for Social Care Inspection; the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service - work formerly undertaken by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration; and the existing regulatory and inspection activities of Ofsted.

4. The Ofsted Press Office can be contacted on 08456 4040404 between 8am - 6pm Monday - Friday. During evenings and weekends we can be reached on 07919 057359.