Lecturers' union leaders this week joined college chiefs in welcoming the decision of outspoken Ofsted chief inspector Chris Woodhead to resign.
Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney said Mr Woodhead's announcement last week that he was to move on was "entirely appropriate", and would bring "immense relief" to lecturers in further education colleges, which are to be inspected by Ofsted-led quality watchdogs from April.
Mr Mackney said lecturers felt that Mr Woodhead had been "too ready to pounce on failings and belittle achievements", and he "did not appear to share our sense of urgency about the need to address the equal opportunity issues facing post-16 education".
In an interview with The THES in September, Mr Woodhead said further and higher education courses ought to be made tougher, and he added that he would welcome a direct link between funding and quality judgements in further education.
Ofsted officials said this week that Mr Woodhead's departure, officially in March but in effect from December, would not affect plans for a common post-16 inspection system. Mr Woodhead will be replaced temporarily by Mike Tomlinson, Ofsted's director of inspection, who will become acting chief inspector at the end of the month.
Mr Tomlinson and Mr Woodhead have been described as "like chalk and cheese", by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Mr Hart said Mr Tomlinson, who rose through Ofsted after leaving teaching in 1978, was "less arrogant, and more willing to consult and listen and take on board legitimate concerns" than Mr Woodhead.
But Stephen Grix, Ofsted's new head of post-compulsory education, warned those at last week's Further Education Funding Council annual general meeting and at yesterday's first national Learning and Skills Council conference not to expect a "lighter touch".
He said he was "reluctant to oblige" requests for colleges with good records to get favourable treatment, but added that "intervention in those colleges that are performing least well will produce the best results".
More emphasis on assessing teaching and leadership quality would mean doubling the number of curriculum areas inspected and graded for the average college, and a rise in the number of on-site inspection days, he added.
To inspect colleges, Ofsted will form a core inspectorate from up to 30 inspectors transferring from the FEFC plus 15 HMIs already in post. Also, a significant number of part-time inspectors will be recruited from the post-16 sector.