Principal defiant after Ofsted grade four

Third poor inspection for City College Coventry’s Paul Taylor

The principal of the latest big city college to be labelled inadequate by Ofsted has told of his determination to stay on and “put things right”.

After 16 years in the job and two previous poor inspections, Paul Taylor, at City College Coventry, was hit with the grade four result across each inspection headline field.

The 8,000-learner college was also given grade fours throughout the main findings board, including apprenticeships and 19+ learning programmes.

It got grade three overall results at previous inspections in March 2010 and May 2007, but its highest mark this time was a single grade two for teaching, learning and assessment on independent living and life skills.

“I’ve thought long and hard about what’s happened,” said Mr Taylor (pictured).

“I’ve thought: ‘Shall I go?’. But I couldn’t leave the college with those grades. If I walk away I’ll regret it forever.

“I’m very confident we will put things right. At the end of the day we have to accept where we are and face up to it.”

City College Coventry is the third big city college to have been given a grade four in recent weeks.

Last month, City of Liverpool College got grade fours in every headline inspection field, four years after it was praised as outstanding.

And, more recently, City of Bristol College fell from good to inadequate, with grade fours in all but leadership and management, where it was seen to be in need of improvement.

If I walk away I’ll regret it forever.”

Coventry’s Ofsted report, published on April 23 following inspection in March, was critical of below average achievement, low course completion, poor attendance and punctuality.

It said: “Quality assurance systems are ineffective. They have failed to prevent the decline in success rates and have not brought about the necessary improvements across the college, particularly in teaching, learning and assessment.”

It added: “Leadership and management throughout the college are not effective in bringing about sustained improvement in all areas.”

But Mr Taylor said the inspectors’ final grading was “unexpected” because self-assessment indicated the college would get a grade three overall — and a grade two for teaching, learning and assessment.

“Where we got it really wrong was on teaching, learning and assessment. Our own assessment regime was telling us they were good, so it was quite a severe drop,” he said.

“We assessed standards wrongly because we weren’t focusing enough on the learning aspect.”

However, Mr Taylor said he was implementing changes to improve the college, which, according to agency figures, had a turnover of £20.3m for the year ending July 31, 2011.

One change, a new system to monitor attendance and trigger action to deal with students who did not turn up, was not in place in time for the inspection.  Staff training would also be assessed and addressed, “before the end of June with a view to a clean start in September”, he said.

Mr Taylor added: “Generally we need to tidy up on all our systems and become more consistent and focused. But we don’t just want to implement an action plan — we want to put in place a significant culture change.”

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Editorial: Misplaced sentiment

City College Coventry is not the first college to receive a grade four inspection result from Ofsted recently, nor will it be the last.

However, three things make this outcome stand out from the seemingly growing crowd.

Firstly, this was no average grade four. All 16 outcomes in the record of main findings were inadequate.

Secondly, and unlike other overall grade four results, this was not an exceptional result.

The college had already had two poor inspection results.

Thirdly, current principal Paul Taylor has been at the helm for 16 years and during all of those inspections.

So the defence of being new in post is not available for him, unlike principals at other grade four colleges.

But Mr Taylor is staying put because if he walks away he’ll “regret it forever”.

It’s an honourable sentiment, but a misplaced one.

What about the tens of thousands of people in Coventry who over the years, according to Ofsted, have received a less than good educational experience?

Bearing in mind Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments about no consequences for failure at FE colleges, and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock’s plans for an axe-wielding FE Commissioner, this latest blow should be seen as a watershed moment for the sector.

What is to be the consequence of what appears repeated failure in leadership at City College Coventry?

Nick Linford, FE Week editor