Kirklees College “overjoyed” by good Ofsted report

A principal has taken a Yorkshire college from an “inadequate” to a “good” Ofsted grading after downsizing staff and laying out “clear objectives”.

Peter McCann transformed the reputation of Kirklees College over 18 months and when the quality watchdog recently re-inspected they found all eight areas of the curriculum to be “good”.

Under his leadership 25 per cent of the college’s management roles were made redundant as part of essential budget cuts. But as a result Kirklees’ student success rates went from being among the bottom 5 per cent in the country to being in the top ten per cent.

I think the college had lost some direction and our data wasn’t very good so we didn’t understand our own college as well as other colleges in the sector,”

“It’s been an amazing journey of improvement over two years,” said the principal.

“Our long-haul success rates went from 67 to 86 per cent so that’s 19 per cent improvement in two years.”

Peter, who before joining Kirklees was vice-principal at Leeds City College, took his post in May 2011, the same month that Ofsted published a damning report which ranked the institute as inadequate.

He told FE Week how he turned around one of the country’s biggest colleges with 20,000 students.

“I think the college had lost some direction and our data wasn’t very good so we didn’t understand our own college as well as other colleges in the sector,” he said.

“There had been some overlap of responsibilities but I produced a very clear strategic plan. Before it had been unclear of who was accountable for what.

“Giving people that direction and renewed energy and motivation, but at the same time taking out the costs base of the college was the hardest part of the job.”

He said he risk assessed staff and policies and made £5m savings, mainly by job cuts in management roles. He got rid of heads of departments, a vice principal and much of the support staff.

“We had to give the focus back to students on teaching and learning and the needs of the community.  Never underestimate the meaning of deep listening to your students and the community and never over estimate your own importance — it’s about teachers and students.”

He said a mantra he carried through was that every student who stays the journey has the right to be successful so therefore it’s up to the staff to go the extra mile to make sure they do. He looked at those who didn’t make it through to work out why.

He set up campus forums to ensure students were listened to and had regular meetings with the head of the students’ union. He said he believed in “dispersed leadership” among staff and simplicity and added that clarity of mission was important.

“We had some garbled mission before so I sat down with staff and we came up with “creating opportunity, changing lives.”

“Just that clarity of focus was a really significant cultural change. We’re here to celebrate the fact that we’re a second chance institution. We are here for our community and they have been so supportive of us — even through the bad times.”

“Everyone is overjoyed that the progress we have made has been recognised. The main feeling among the college is one of personal satisfaction.”