A thorough improvement plan at City of Bristol College was put in place last year when Ofsted inspectors said it was no longer good, but inadequate. It started paying off inspection-wise this month with the grade shift up to ‘requires improvement’. Cliff Shaw explains what’s been going on to achieve the feat in 17 months.

When City of Bristol College was graded four in April last year, we knew we needed to put students back at the heart of everything we do. Only by achieving that could we raise the standards of teaching, learning, assessment and the student experience.

Everything Ofsted looks at is of course related to students. Are they attending college? Is the teaching stimulating and enjoyable? Is the college equipping them well to progress onto further study or employment? While all of this sounds very simple, we know of course that it can be very complex to deliver.

The most recent Ofsted inspection which took place last month confirmed that we have made a good start. The college is no longer inadequate and, while we have a way to go before we’re outstanding, we know we’re heading in the right direction.

So, how did we do it? Underpinning all of our changes was a thorough programme of teaching observations. We knew that without a reliable observation profile we would be unable to improve.

We decided to adopt co-observed lessons with internal and external observers for all observations to give us confidence in the grades awarded and to help college staff to improve their observation and feedback skills.

Underpinning all of our changes was a thorough programme of teaching observations. We knew that without a reliable observation profile we would be unable to improve

The observations allowed us to identify our best teachers and to make some of them into teaching, learning and assessment coaches.

We invested in a number of coaches to work in specific areas of the college, with individuals and groups, as needed. Teachers also share best practice through training sessions, filmed lessons, quality learning materials and subject specific ‘top tips’ handbooks written by and for teachers.

We also agreed and enforced a number of ‘non-negotiable’ teaching, learning and assessment elements to re-establish core practice.

Alongside improving our teaching, learning and assessment we also wanted to make sure that the student experience improved outside the classroom.

The college now has a team of apprentice youth workers who engage with students, encouraging them to get involved in events and activities.

They have introduced initiatives, such as The Forum where students come together to discuss current affairs that are affecting young people, breaking down barriers, starting conversations and challenging views.

The college’s data was a significant weakness at the time of our 2013 Ofsted inspection and we knew that investment in our data systems was crucial. We have now begun to roll out a series of new tools which will allow us to use data to drive further improvements and to accurately measure our success.

So, now that we have achieved a grade three for overall effectiveness, what next? Our first grade one subject area shows that we can do it — we now need to make sure that all areas offer outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

In a college the size and scope of City of Bristol, we don’t underestimate this challenge. In terms of teaching, learning and assessment we will continue to frame improvement around ‘non-negotiable’ elements as we move away from inadequate and move towards good and then outstanding.

We will also be able to enjoy the first full year of the implementation of our new electronic assessment and target setting systems, part of our new fully integrated management information system. These tools will transform the quality of our work and the visibility of performance information and learners’ progress.

Although our attendance figures have improved we still have work to do here. In addition to the range of initiatives we have put in place we are confident that as lessons continue to improve, so will attendance.

College staff have put in an enormous amount of hard work and dedication during the last fifteen months and should feel very proud of what they have achieved so far as we continue on our journey to become an outstanding college.

Cliff Shaw, deputy principal, City of Bristol College