No one wants to be labelled inadequate by Ofsted, says Lynn Merilion, who describes the journey to improvement after it happened to her college earlier this year
The days when Ofsted gave colleges three weeks to prepare for an inspection are long gone.
This time round, we got a phone call on the Thursday of February half term — and the inspectors arrived the next Monday. This posed several challenges, including getting in touch with staff on leave.
When I joined the college (a few months before the inspection) I took time to talk to staff, learners, parents and other stakeholders, discussing with them the college’s strengths and areas for improvement.
The trends were not positive and, although there had been improvements, the major success data was below national rates. This was always going to make the college vulnerable, but as the inspectors say in their report, we were on our way to addressing issues arising from the data.
Before Ofsted, for instance, we were evaluating the management structure and its effectiveness in driving up the quality of teaching, learning and achievement. Now we are implementing a structure focused on student achievements.
While there are no quick fixes, some of the issues are straightforward, such as how we develop learners’ English and maths skills, an area found weak by the inspectors.
We have now set up a ‘buddy system’ for teachers with strong English skills to offer support to others who need it.
Of course, for teachers to become outstanding they need to know what outstanding looks like. That’s why our grade one teachers are now sharing best practice with colleagues, using new technology.
We have been very clear that we take ownership of the grade and about the further improvements that we need to make”
We found that we had overcomplicated the delivery of equality and diversity in the classroom, and that some teaching staff didn’t feel confident in this area, so we are offering training and development and, again, sharing best practice from areas where we get this right.
Notwithstanding the overall rating, there were areas where we achieved grade twos, including our work with students with learning difficulties that Ofsted said had outstanding features. It also praised our “calm and welcoming environment, culture of mutual respect and tolerance, and learners (who) behave in an appropriate fashion”.
Our students, staff and partners have been very supportive, some students have even written to Ofsted to tell them of the good experiences they have had at the college.
I was concerned about the inspection’s impact on staff morale and how we would communicate the result.
During inspection week I made sure that I was available to support the inspection team and to provide essential ongoing communication with the staff and governors. Staff were debriefed face-to-face at the end of the week and, shortly before the Ofsted result was publicly announced, we communicated with all our key partners including employers, sub-contractors and the media.
Our stakeholders have been overwhelmingly supportive and are keen to continue to work with us as we make improvements.
Of course the result was very disappointing — no one wants to be labelled inadequate.
But we have been very clear that we take ownership of the grade, that we had already begun to make changes before Ofsted visited and that we are very clear about the further improvements that we need to make.
We have another 10 to 13 months before the inspectors return. Our overriding commitment is to ensure that we achieve an outstanding experience for our learners. With our staff completely behind us, I know we can do this. We won’t rest until we’re the best college in the country.
Lynn Merilion, principal of City of Bristol College