Macclesfield College soared from an Ofsted grade four to a grade two in just over a year. Principal Simon Andrews explains how.

In February 2012, just weeks before I took over as principal, Macclesfield College failed an Ofsted inspection.  The college recorded an overall grade four ‘inadequate’ for overall effectiveness and leadership and management.  The college had for whatever reason lost its way.

Only 15 months later staff and students are celebrating being awarded a grade two ‘good’ from Ofsted.  This is a transformational performance from the college matched by very few under the new rigorous 2012 Common Inspection Framework.

The seismic shift in performance has been fundamental.  Macclesfield College’s educational performance in May 2013 bears no resemblance to the Macclesfield College of February 2012.  From being very pedestrian and lack lustre the college now has some of the very best teaching and learning the inspectorate has seen.  The curriculum has changed and is better suited to the learners’ aspirations, teaching and learning has improved dramatically, and student satisfaction ratings are in the upper quartile nationally.

So, how has this transformation in performance taken place?  I think it is about having ambition and aspirations for the future. It would have been easy to have simply targeted a grade three — ‘requires improvement’ — as our main objective.  However we decided that we would challenge staff to have the ambition and aspirations for our learners to be one of the best performing UK colleges by 2015 and this was formalised to become the College vision.  We also changed the college mission to put learners at the very heart of all that we do, ‘Macclesfield College: putting learners first’.  These became the drivers that influenced all the developments and initiatives that have rapidly improved performance and changed attitudes and culture.  Indeed the Ofsted Report says: “The Principal is unequivocal in his vision for the college to be outstanding …the Principal has changed the culture of the college successfully to one of high aspiration and ambition.”

Following restructure, investment in infrastructure, and the appointment of two high quality vice principals, managers made teaching and learning and the learner the central focus of activity.  College timetabling was changed to better facilitate the learning and more space was made available for them to use between lessons.  Teaching and Learning Champions were appointed to support the development of teachers.  The college also benefited from some high quality support from the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) and Promoting Excellence which was bespoke for the college’s needs.  New specialist vocational areas have been developed in motor vehicle and motor cycle, construction trades such as carpentry and joinery, and brick laying.  Plans are advancing to develop a construction centre to feature plumbing, gas fitting, plastering, painting and decorating along with green technologies.  Further developments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have also taken place, notably in new foundation degrees in science and engineering.

New performance management systems have been introduced based on high quality accurate data which allowed senior managers to monitor all aspects of performance.  Curriculum managers understand that they are responsible and accountable for their performance.  This responsibility and accountability permeate through the teaching teams so that all staff understand their role and responsibilities.

We have focused on the development of teaching, learning, and assessment.  This has dramatically improved classroom performance and the learner experience.  The Ofsted Report says: “The large majority of lessons are good or better.  Teachers plan their lessons well, successfully engage and motivate their students through dynamic, interesting, and well-paced teaching… students benefit from teachers’ high but realistic expectations.”

It is the people who make the difference.  It is important to have highly motivated staff in the right job and it is equally important to understand that the employer has a right to expect good performance.  We now have high quality performing teams across the college — that is the key difference.  The College will now continue to improve and develop.

Simon Andrews, principal at Macclesfield College