Newcastle College boss accuses Ofsted of ‘flaws’ in their Good inspection grade

Ofsted have today published their delayed inspection report for NCG (formerly Newcastle College Group), reducing their overall grade from Outstanding to Good.

FE Week reported in July that NCG had controversially cut the inspection short following what Dame Jackie Fisher, chief executive of NCG, referred in an internal email to staff as “some troubling incidents.”

Since then Ofsted have met with NCG to conclude the inspection, and Ms Fisher today said: “I was astounded to see the final grading of NCG, but not surprised when I saw the flaws in the way the grade was arrived at.”

Ms Fisher was keen to point out that she felt NCG were given a Good grade despite an outstanding report.

She said: “The inspectors ran out of superlatives to describe us, there are more than a hundred mentions of words such as outstanding, exceptional, excellent, superb and successful – more than four on every page.”

FE Week took up the challenge of counting the use of these five words, and found they were used 89 times, including 34 references to ‘outstanding’.

However, this was outweighed by the use of the word ‘good’ 101 times.

The Ofsted report praised many aspects of NCG, but did criticise college-based long course success rates, which saw a slight decline in 2010/11 and “were close to the national average, and have not improved over the last three years.”

The report goes on to say that in some cases success rates were “below average, for example, in science and mathematics and construction” and that at a “minority of less effective lessons observed by inspectors attendance was sometimes low, teachers did not use their time well or check the progress of all learners adequately, and they did not challenge learners sufficiently.”

“NCG provides good quality education and training both in its colleges and through Intraining.”

The quality of academic support experienced by learners, in the form of tutorials, progress reviews and the use of electronic individual learning plans was also described as “too variable.”

However, in terms of overall effectiveness the report said “NCG provides good quality education and training both in its colleges and through Intraining. The organisation makes a significant contribution to improving the life chances of a large number of young people and adult learners, both in the communities served by the colleges and nationally. The proportion of learners who complete their courses successfully is consistently at or above national averages.”

The report also adds that “NCG provision is outstanding in meeting the needs and interests of learners.”

19 (63%) of FE colleges that have been inspected in 2012 have seen their overall Ofsted inspection grade fall. Just 4 (13%) saw a grade increase.”

Ofsted also acknowledged that NCG is a “large and complex organisation.”, employing around 3,600 people and comprising four divisions (Newcastle Collegein the North East, West Lancashire College in Skelmersdale, Intraining, a national training organisation based in Sheffield and the youth charity Rathbone based in Manchester [not included in the inspection]).

To add to the complexity, in addition to acting as a subcontractor to 15 providers, the report lists all 89 subcontractors, which “provide training on behalf of NCG.”

NCG joins a growing number of unhappy FE colleges, with 19 (63%) of those inspected in 2012 seeing their overall Ofsted inspection grade fall. Just 4 (13%) saw a grade increase.

The table of all General Further Education inspection results in 2012 below, produced by FE Week, also shows that all eight Outstanding colleges going into an inspection in 2012 have been demoted to at best Good, and in one case was graded as Unsatisfactory.

Eastleigh College in Hampshire is the only general FE college to have been awarding an overall Outstanding grade so far in 2012.