Colleges hit with Skills Funding Agency warnings

Two of England’s biggest colleges have been slapped with notices of concern by the Skills Funding Agency following inadequate gradings from Ofsted.

City of Liverpool College got grade fours in every one of the education watchdog’s headline fields last month, just 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.

The Ofsted verdicts prompted the agency to act, issuing both colleges with notices of concern — the first step in a three-stage risk management process, introduced following the government’s New Chances, New Challenges review. Agency funding can be withdrawn at stage three.

Ofsted said the 17,000-learner Liverpool college, formerly Liverpool Community College, had too many students turning up late for lessons — if at all.

We can confirm the agency has followed its standard process and issued a notice to improve.”

It also said too many learners left the college, which had a turnover of £47.5m for the year ending July 31, 2011, without qualifications.

However, principal Elaine Bowker and her new senior team shared “a clear view of the college’s current weak position and have communicated the urgent need for improvement”, added the report.

An agency spokesperson confirmed it had issued a notice of concern to the college.

A college spokesperson said: “We can confirm the agency has followed its standard process and issued a notice to improve.

“Our staff and management team are committed to building on current successes and improvements that have been implemented since the new senior leadership has been in post.”

The 30,000-learner Bristol college — England’s sixth biggest with a turnover of £67.5m for the year ending July 31, 2011 — was last inspected in 2010, when it achieved a good
grading.

But, according to the latest Ofsted report, its teachers now paid “insufficient attention to the individual needs of learners and do not challenge learners of different abilities to achieve their potential”.

However, it also paid tribute to the efforts of new leadership at the college. It said an “impressively positive cultural change, instigated through highly effective communication, is enabling staff to become more responsible and accountable for learners’ outcomes”.

The agency spokesperson said: “We are applying our intervention process and have issued a notice of concern.

“We will remain in conversation with the college over the next few months to ensure it restores high quality provision and to ensure that the needs of learners continue to be met.”

A Bristol college spokesperson said: “The notice of concern is procedural and was fully expected.”