Just over a year ago, South Worcestershire College was deemed by Ofsted to be inadequate. A host of measures, including a possible merger, were subsequently set in motion before Ofsted inspectors revisited and handed out a new, good grading, explains Viv Gillespie.
We were graded as good in our Ofsted inspection report in early December having been graded as inadequate in October the previous year. This represents the fastest turnaround from a grade four to grade two.
The grade four inspection report found, in particular, failings in leadership and management and in poor outcomes for students.
Having arrived as interim principal in January 2013 it was clear that we had to address quality improvement as quickly as possible to result in improved outcomes for learners.
I was aware that the outcomes for 2012-2013 would be the only ones taken into account for the re-inspection.
This meant that a lot of new systems, and approaches to teaching and learning had to be introduced very quickly.
Building the confidence of staff and the whole leadership was essential as everyone was shocked by the inadequate result, which had not been anticipated.
I was also aware that Ofsted was likely to look at how well the 16 to 19 study programme had been introduced, so planning was started very early for its implementation.
A robust and rigorous plan was put in place, with crucial key information enabling our governors to monitor and challenge the progress.
The first priority was about raising expectations and ambition for the college.
The second was an improved set of processes, measures and data. Milestones judged effective progress against areas of improvement and flagged-up any ‘early danger’ signs.
Everyone was shocked by the inadequate result, which had not been anticipated
For example, the expansion and systematic monitoring of ‘learners at risk’ really helped to improve retention and achievement.
The third area was teaching, learning and assessment. We designed a set of ‘prompt cards’ for staff to help simplify the key ‘must-haves’. For example, ‘ways to embed equality and diversity’.
Within the year, long course success rates rose to 87.5 per cent and will position us within the top results for 2012/13.
High grades also improved dramatically — a reflection of the improved ambition and aspiration of students and of the staff who have enabled these achievements.
The improvement activities were underpinned by staff development, coaching, transference of good practice and the use of some good external support.
As a small college, resources are very limited and we were in no position to throw money at the problems.
While of course wanting to learn from external best practice, it was up to us to take responsibility and enable change across the organisation.
It is also fairly unusual for a college in the process of recovery from a grade four to start to undergo its own options review process.
We are mid-way through the process of reviewing options to ascertain a sustainable future for the college.
I was asked to stay on by governors in order to see the options process through to a successful conclusion.
I have been very aware that the complex project must not divert attention from our core business of delivering high-quality education and training.
It is an absolute credit to staff that they have worked so hard to bring about the college’s Ofsted good grading while being in a period of such uncertainty about the future.
The Ofsted report is very complimentary about the improvements made and their positive impact on learners.
I am pleased that Ofsted recognised in the report that staff morale, confidence and self-esteem are high and are reflected in the high level of support they provide to students and apprentices in a safe and caring environment.
The report also stressed the focus that the college gives on our students gaining good employability skills and accessing relevant employment.
Viv Gillespie, interim principal, South Worcestershire College