Sheffield College retains its grade three despite achievement-rate worries

Sheffield College retains its grade three despite achievement-rate worries

Sheffield College has held onto its grade three rating following a recent Ofsted visit – despite concerns that falling standards could drag it down.

The huge college, which has suffered a string of leadership changes in recent months, was rated ‘requires improvement’ overall and in six headline measures in a report published this morning and based on an inspection in late January.

Poor achievement rates – which FE Week previously reported could have pulled the college down to a grade four – were among the main issues singled out in the report.

“The proportion of students on study programmes and adult learning programmes who achieve their qualifications is not high enough,” the report said.

In addition, students on English and maths courses are not making enough progress, while learners on level three programmes are “not rapid enough”.

“Too many students” fail to progress or complete their courses “because they do not attend lessons”, while “too many” adult learners and those on study programmes “do not arrive on time to their lessons”.

Teaching, learning and assessment at the college are “not of a consistently high standard”.

“Leaders recognise this in the college’s self-assessment report, but have been unable to secure improvements since the previous inspection”.

Governors, senior leaders and managers were criticised for being “slow to address many of the weaknesses identified at the previous inspection” and for having “insufficient focus on ensuring that students develop their English and mathematics skills” until recently.

Sheffield College lost its chief executive Paul Corcoran in November, and its governing body chair Richard Wright in January, after both stepped down with immediate effect.

Their departures came just months after Angela Foulkes took over as principal in June, replacing former principal Heather Smith who retired last summer after two years in charge.

Ms Foulkes is currently acting chief executive until a permanent replacement is found, while Seb Schmoller was appointed chair on January 18, shortly before the Ofsted visit.

“Following recent changes to personnel in the governing body and senior leadership team, they now have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the college,” inspectors conceded.

And while the college received grade threes in six headline measures, it was rated ‘good’ for both apprenticeships and provision for learners with high needs.

“Ensuring students have a consistently good learning experience so they can fulfil their potential is my top priority. We are not complacent. The college is taking swift action with a comprehensive plan to address the points raised by Ofsted,” Ms Foulkes said.

“We are absolutely determined to support Angela Foulkes and the staff of the college to improve things quickly in the areas where Ofsted has rightly said we need to do better. Our students and the communities we serve deserve nothing less than this,” Mr Schmoller added.

Sheffield College was also rated ‘requires improvement’ almost exactly two years ago – down from grade two in 2013.

It had been feared that the college could fall to ‘inadequate’ due to its declining achievement rates – although the college itself had self-assessed as a grade three.

Its 2016/17 accounts, published in January, revealed its education and training achievement rates had dropped from 77.4 per cent in 2015/16, to 76.3 per cent.

Minutes from a board meeting in October revealed this fall to have come as a surprise to college leaders: the college was recently visited by the FE commissioner for a diagnostic assessment.

These are two-day visits to colleges at risk of failing – particularly those with multiple grade threes – to identify where they need to improve.