Independent colleges of further education can be accredited not only by Ofsted, which advises the Secretary of State of Children, Schools and Family about the suitability of private colleges for continued registration as independent schools, but also by BAC – the British Accreditation Council, which has offered a quality assurance scheme for independent further and higher education since 1984.
The BAC accreditation is recognised internationally: therefore, it is a guarantee for overseas GCSE or A-level students that the independent college they are enrolling at is considered genuine by immigration officials and is a reputable institution of further education.
BAC accreditation lasts four years. Inspections are carried out in a variety of ways, including announced and unannounced visits to the private college by inspectors and the submission of an annual return by the college.
BAC inspectors focus on a variety of areas in order to assess the quality of education provision at independent colleges. They typically observe a number of classes at the college for a period of time, and ask GCSE or sixth-form/A-level students what they think of their teachers and of the activities offered by the independent college. They also ask college students about the extra support they receive outside classes. They assess the level of teaching (e.g. if it’s creative and imaginative) and the level of active participation from GCSE and A-level students: therefore, small class sizes with a personalised approach to teaching, which is usually a priority of private colleges of further education, are viewed favourably by BAC inspectors.
BAC also considers whether the independent college has any specialist facilities, such as computer and multimedia facilities, and may assess the quality of the work produced, for example in the Art Centre.
The social programme offered by the private college is another major point of assessment: for example, BAC inspectors will look at the choice of educational activities (such as cultural trips) and of sports available to GCSE and A-level students. Finally, BAC will consider the independent college’s administrative work, such as timetabling, and how student complaints are handled by college staff.
Ofsted carries out inspections in cycles which last around three years. Ofsted inspections focus on the quality of teaching at independent colleges of further education and assess whether sixth-form/A-level students achieve their goals in terms of entry to higher education and admission at the university of their choice.
Aspects covered by Ofsted inspections include the attitude of the private college’s students to learning, the level of individual attention offered to them, their involvement in lessons, and how their progress is monitored by the college staff. So, like BAC, Ofsted will award high marks to independent colleges of further education where class sizes are small, with a high level of individual attention.
Ofsted inspectors also consider how the private college’s students are assessed, from the point of view of questioning and marking, and evaluate whether preparation complies with examination specifications, i.e. if assessment tasks are relevant to expected outcomes.
Another important aspect for Ofsted inspectors is the choice of courses, both in terms of subjects available and of course options (e.g. two-year, 18 months or one-year sixth-form/A-level courses).
The Ofsted report also considers the additional services and support offered by the private college of further education; for example, teaching English as a second language, the tutorial programme and the availability of extracurricular educational activities.