A college in the Tees Valley has received the lowest possible Ofsted rating, facing particular criticism for “inadequate” leadership and management and “very weak” finances.
Redcar and Cleveland College was also singled out for poor quality-assurance processes, low attendance and achievement rates, poor teaching, learning and assessments and a lack of detailed information provided to governors.
The troubled college was given grade threes across the board at inspections in February 2013, July 2014 and November 2015, and received a notice of concern for financial health from the ESFA in March 2015.
The report, based on an inspection in October, acknowledged the college had faced a “period of significant instability in senior leadership” that was now beginning to improve, but said leaders and management had not taken “rapid enough action” to improve the performance of teaching staff or make sure the curriculum meets “local needs”, which has lead to a decline in the recruitment of learners.
FE Week reported four months ago that merger talks between it and Middlesbrough College had broken down back in February, despite the fact that it had only been taken out of its previous intervention in October last year on the specific condition that the merger went through.
Today’s Ofsted report also said that “too many learners” failed to get qualifications, the achievement of apprentices “remains too low”, and teaching, learning and assessment requires improvement “in too many curriculum areas”.
“The financial position of the college is very weak,” inspectors wrote. “This presents very significant challenges for the college’s sustainability and its ability to maintain a broad and responsive curriculum.”
Although Ofsted commended the college’s governors as “highly committed”, they criticised leaders for providing them with insufficient information about the college’s performance .
Ofsted did recognise that “very recent actions” were beginning to show “early signs of improvement” in the progress of learners, including new opportunities to gain additional qualifications and work experience, a recently strengthened governing body and new quality assurance system.
But it is a “matter of urgency” that the college provide appropriate training for staff to ensure all learners recognise the “risks of extremism and radicalisation”. It must also “take immediate and sustained action to ensure more learners and apprentices stay on their programmes and make good progress”.
The college has been allocated £2.3 million for 2017/18 by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
Redcar and Cleveland College’s acting principal, Ed Heatley, said they were “disappointed” with the result from Ofsted but that “measures are already being put in place to ensure improvements across the board.
“While Ofsted highlighted a number of areas of concern in their report, they also recognised that recent actions have resulted in the early signs of improvement, and that the college has a clear focus and strategy going forward.”
He added that providing further education opportunities in Redcar remains the college’s “priority” and said they were committed to continuing providing “high quality” work experience and guidance for students and ensuring learners continue into employment or higher education.
Update – 11am
Redcar and Cleveland College and Stockton Riverside College have announced plans to merge.
According to today’s announcement, both colleges are confident that a merger – set to go through by August 2018 – would help to boost quality at struggling Redcar.
Mark White, Stockton Riverside chair, said: “With a shared vision and passion for our local communities and the wider Tees Valley, both colleges are confident that the partnership will create greater opportunities for learners, employers, staff and stakeholders.”
Redcar and Cleveland College’s acting principal Ed Heatley said the move “will help us to alleviate the concerns Ofsted has raised.
“As one organisation, both colleges will benefit from shared expertise, resources and best practice along with enhanced opportunities for future growth. The delivery of an excellent learner experience is at the heart of the merger as is the growth and performance of both colleges.”
And Sue Jeffrey, Redcar and Cleveland College chair, added: “This is a really positive development both for the colleges and the area.”
The two colleges both took part in the Tees Valley area review, but came out of that process with separate merger proposals – both of which subsequently fell through.
Grade two-rated Stockton Riverside had been planning to join forces with Darlington College, while the breakdown of talks between Redcar and Cleveland and Middlesbrough College earlier this year led to the FE commissioner’s involvement to find a new partner for Redcar.