Leading London college tumbles to inadequate

One of London’s largest FE colleges, and a former outstanding one, has crashed to a grade four Ofsted rating.

LeSoCo, a 17,600-learner college in South London, has been graded inadequate after its latest inspection, less than two months ago.

While we fully accept the need for improvements in some areas of our teaching and learning provision, we do not recognise the grading of the college as inadequate and will appeal,”

The education watchdog’s report criticised poor teaching in engineering and foundation English and maths, as well failing to get enough apprentices through their training on time.

Among the criticisms was that the “teaching of functional skills is inadequate. In most subject areas teachers do not use the results from the initial assessment to inform the planning of learning”.

It is not yet known if the outcome is bad enough to prompt a visit from FE Commissioner David Collins, however, the college, which has a current Skills Funding Agency allocation of £26.2m, could be facing the boot from high-performing colleges’ body, the 157 Group.

Principal Maxine Room told FE Week she “did not” recognise the grading and would appeal. “While we fully accept the need for improvements in some areas of our teaching and learning provision, we do not recognise the grading of the college as inadequate and will appeal,” she said.

The college was formed of a merger in 2012 between Lewisham College — rated outstanding in 2006, before dropping to satisfactory (a grade three and now termed ‘requires improvement’) in 2012 — and Southwark College, which was graded inadequate in December 2011.

However, Ofsted said the college management of the merger had been a strength, but it nevertheless got a grade four result overall and also in the teaching, learning and assessment headline field. It was deemed to require improvement on outcomes for learners and leadership and management.

The Ofsted report said: “Staff do not set learning targets for learners or track their progress effectively. Tutorials are often unproductive [and] many learners cannot

recall when they last received a tutorial, when they were given individual targets relating to their qualification, or when they had a discussion about issues such as attendance.”

Ms Room said she was “devastated” by the outcome of the inspection and criticised the way the report appeared to let poor performance in English and maths bring down the college’s overall rating. “If you look at the proportionality of the grading, 80 per cent of the provision was grade two, and 20 per cent was grade three and four,” she said.

“The weighting on English and maths has overweighed the rest of the provision, and that is what we think is unfair.” Ms Room also said the college had a post-inspection action plan in place and that a number of visiting tutors had been removed in the past year because of poor performance.

But, she said, it was “not the time to talk about blame” and she had “no intention” of resigning. Nevertheless, she also criticised Ofsted for failing to keep the college informed about the outcome of the inspection.

Ofsted said it took complaints seriously, but would not comment on individual cases.

Lynne Sedgmore, 157 Group executive director, said it was too early to comment on LeSoCo’s future membership of the group, but said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the report.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment on whether the FE Commissioner, who was appointed as a troubleshooter for failing colleges, would be sent into LeSoCo.

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Another week, another college crashes to a grade four inspection result.

It would be wrong to ignore the fact we’re seeing more outstanding colleges, but worryingly we’re also seeing former grade ones falling to inadequate.

We’ve seen Liverpool and Stockport stumble, and Bristol became a grade four having previously been good. Now we have LeSoCo, too.

Is there a trend? It’s certainly the case that in each college Ofsted saw extreme shortcomings on teaching, learning and assessment.

Perhaps this is the truly shocking part of all this — that any college should get an inadequate grading on what is essentially a bread-and-butter task.

But what exactly has been changing at these colleges? An obvious question surrounds size — are they too big? Or maybe there are growing challenges presented by the city environment?

Certainly London has an issue, as Ofsted conceded in FE Week last year, and the LeSoCo result adds further fuel to that fire.

It would be unfair to say Skills Minister Matthew Hancock is reluctant to act having created the office of the FE Commissioner (although to learn there’s even a possibility David Collins may not be sent in to LeSoCo seems somewhat a dereliction of duty).

Investigation is needed to get under the bonnet to find out if there is a common, and hopefully rectifiable, denominator in all or just a few of these crashing colleges.

Chris Henwood, editor