It’s the nightmare situation that keeps principals up at night and after an Ofsted visit in February, it happened to Lynn Merilion as Ofsted said City of Bristol College was inadequate. She explains what’s been happening at the college
since then.

When we received our disappointing Ofsted grade back in February we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us.

I had joined the college a couple of months before Ofsted visited, and had spent time talking with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Everybody I spoke to mentioned student achievement and the student experience as areas for improvement. The Ofsted report confirmed this.

We are now ten months on from the original Ofsted inspection; so what have we been doing to improve the college? Most importantly, we knew we had to place students back at the heart of everything we do — and that’s what we’ve done.

We established a new mission — Creating Lifetime Opportunities through Outstanding Education and Training — and student-facing values which are embedded into everything we now do.

Students come to college to gain a qualification and part of refocusing on our students means that we need to improve student achievement. Because of this, some of our biggest changes have been in the areas of teaching, learning and assessment.

Our Ofsted monitoring visit in September showed we were making reasonable progress

For our teachers to become outstanding they need to see what outstanding looks like and we decided to use our best teachers to do this.

We created videos and other e-learning tools showing excellent teaching and made these available to all staff; implemented a programme of staff development days with learning from external consultants but also from high performing internal staff; and made some of our best teachers Teaching, Learning and Assessment Coaches (TLACs). They work across the college with individual teachers and groups to provide specific training focusing on the seven non-negotiable elements that must be present in all lessons, as identified by the college’s senior leadership team.

We’ve improved the student experience outside the classroom too, with a comprehensive induction programme for new students at the start of the academic year.

There is a full student calendar of events, including sporting activities provided by our sport maker, embedding equality and diversity and functional skills. Youth workers have been appointed to work with students on a range of issues and, as apprentices, they are in the unique position of being both college staff and students.

So, how do we know what we’re doing is working? Well, our Ofsted monitoring visit in September showed we were making reasonable progress.

The inspectors recognised that we have a robust post-inspection action plan in place with a clear strategy for improving teaching, learning and assessment.

The monitoring visit report described our management team as having a “clear focus on bringing about change and improving the quality of provision across the college.”

In addition, the report praised our “strong and sustained focus on improving the quality and consistency of teaching, learning and assessment” which was “beginning to have a positive impact”.

Feedback from students and staff also shows us how far we have come since February. The recent two-day monitoring visit took place at one of our campuses and I was delighted to receive an email from a member of staff at a different campus asking if Ofsted could visit them too. There is a really positive feeling about the college with staff keen to show Ofsted just how far we’ve come.

Of course, we still have a way to go on our journey to outstanding, and we never lose sight of that, but it’s also important for us to celebrate the achievements we have made to date and to remember that there are areas of the college which we did very well in the original inspection.

We don’t know when our full re-inspection will take place; it could be any time next year. What we do know is that our improvements to date are having a real impact; that our monitoring visit report was positive because of this; and that we are ready to show Ofsted what we can do.

Lynn Merilion, principal,
City of Bristol College