The principal of an FE provider said she led her centre to an outstanding Ofsted inspection result by focusing on teaching and learning.

Maria Gilling, 52, principal at Walsall Adult and Community College (WACC) (pictured right), said she was “delighted and really proud” of her staff for achieving grade 1 — outstanding — in 23 out of 24 Ofsted category areas.

The local authority provision centre which caters for around 8,000 learners and employs around 160 staff was inspected in December.

“I feel most proud of our teaching and learning results and delighted for our students and staff,” said Ms Gilling who oversaw a merger between of Walsall Community College and the College of Continuing Education which created WACC in 2009.

The centre was last inspected by the education watchdog in 2010 when it was deemed grade 2 — good.

“Because we were inspected in 2010 we were truly not expecting this. Obviously under the new inspection framework there is such a short notice period so what Ofsted see is truly what happens every day.

“During our previous inspection teaching and learning was deemed satisfactory but that’s not what we’re about so we focused on effectively shifting two grades in that area.”

She said her passion came from her own teaching background after working for a number of years as an English, communications and media teacher.

“I sent out the message really clearly that every day of every week the student comes first and I tried to develop a real pride in our teachers, recognising they have a really demanding job to do. I’ve invested in their support, training and development.

“We also have high expectations of our students,” she said.

Another area of which she feels exceptionally proud is equality and diversity which has also shifted from satisfactory to outstanding.  WACC is located in some of the most deprived areas of the country, she said and the borough of Walsall has one of the highest rates of unemployment. The number of people claiming out of work benefits is one third above average.

“We have dealt with this by cultivating a culture of inclusion,” she said.

“This college is for its community and reflects the community. We wanted to reach out to those with the least opportunity of success in the past, many of whom are adults not in education, employment or training (NEET).

“These individuals do not respond to newspaper adverts and posh brochures — they respond to human connection.”

She said they reached out to this group by working with eight partners across the borough such as local and social housing groups and drop-in centres and fostered a “very good” partnership with Job Centre Plus.

Under a new common inspection framework (CIF) introduced by Ofsted in September, at the time of going to press, no general FE college has been graded outstanding.