Among the areas of Ofsted praise heaped upon North Somerset’s outstanding Weston College earlier this year Foundation English. Dave Trounce explains how the college putting core skills at the centre of the whole college curriculum.

The flurry of excitement which greeted the post-Christmas announcement that our Foundation English programme at Weston College was deemed by Ofsted to be outstanding almost — but not quite — caused us to miss the fine details of the inspection report.

In particular, one word jumped out at — “remarkable”.

“The team has had a significant and remarkable impact on improving vocational teachers’ confidence,” it said.

The team it was talking about had only been in existence for a few months, and the inspectors were praising them like veterans of a hard-won and lengthy campaign. The truth is we’re only at the start of the journey. Even so, there is no doubt that already we are making a remarkable impact right across our college.

It seems to be a tradition among colleges that the specialist teaching of English — and maths — is hived off to individual faculties to deliver. Our ambition was different; we wanted to bring it front and centre and make it a core priority for all aspects of college provision.

Of course, there are government expectations too. It would like all school-leavers who do not have a GCSE grade C in maths or English to work towards this during post-16 studies, and from September this year it will be a condition of funding for all colleges.

Our emphasis is not just on encouraging students through qualifications, it is about supporting the curriculum areas to better enable the teaching of English and maths

A recent number-crunching exercise revealed that around 40 per cent of our students do not have A to C in English, with a slightly higher percentage failing to get the same grades in maths. This is broadly in line with the national average, but it does mean we have some real work to do.

However, ambition is one thing; getting the right teachers trained to the highest standards is another.

Our emphasis is not just on encouraging students through qualifications, it is about supporting the curriculum areas to better enable the teaching of English and maths, and about upskilling staff to really deliver these subjects.

We cannot and will not just ask anyone to deliver; it has to be a high-performing team that can work within a campus-common timetable model to contextualise English and maths for each curriculum area.

We have not been afraid to innovate and experiment. For example, learners in our creative art and design faculty have been given an ‘English diary’ which allows the student, their vocational tutor and the specialist English tutor to implement a seamless approach to English development — including a standardised marking system we feel sets a benchmark for other colleges — that is integral to their understanding of the subject.

We have also looked at collaborative models, including an embedded specialist English teacher working alongside vocational tutors in our hairdressing and beauty therapy department that has made a significant impact on learners’ progress.

Where next? Well, we’re great believers in growing our own staff and from April 30 we will be delivering an English and maths advancement programme for teachers, trainers, support workers and assessors. This will deliver levels three and five in both subjects. Also, we’re keen to implement English and maths hubs in each of our three campuses and we hope to set up such zones in the next academic year.

Ultimately, we would like to see our specialist teachers deliver GCSEs and also at level three for students who already have A to C, as part of the Technical Baccalaureate. This would stretch and challenge students who will benefit from higher level qualifications. By then, we would hope our vocational teachers are sufficiently skilled to teach English and maths at Functional Skills level.

Dave Trounce, assistant principal, Weston College