Over ‘optimistic’ leaders drag council down to ‘inadequate’

A council has received the lowest possible rating for its adult and community learning provision after leadership and management was found to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

Despite being rated as ‘requires improvement’ in every other area, North East Lincolnshire Council has been left with an overall ‘inadequate’ grade after inspectors warned leaders had been “too slow in tackling areas for improvement” and “too optimistic” about the service.

The council’s Community Learning Service (CLS) received a grade three rating from Ofsted in February 2014, April 2015 and December 2016, and the latest report, published today, accused leaders and managers of failing to tackle weaknesses “that have persisted over the past five years and that were identified at three previous inspections”.

The service delivers adult and community learning provision to 729 learners in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Immingham, but inspectors found that too many learners “do not achieve their qualifications because they do not attend their examinations”.

Leaders and managers were said to not use data “incisively enough to manage the performance of their staff”, while members of the improvement board were criticised for not sufficiently challenging reports about the service’s performance.

The report said attendance is “poor”, with just over half of learners attending their sessions on the main employability study programme in 2017/18. The pace of learning is “too slow” and progress made by learners is “insufficient”, but tutors were said to know their learners well and “provide good personal support”.

Ofsted also said that in 2017/18 around a quarter of learners returned to not being in education, training or employment after they left CLS.

Not enough learners on 16 to 19 programmes make the progress expected of them, and tutors for adult learning programmes do not do enough to “motivate and inspire learners”.

However, the report did say leaders had developed a curriculum that “serves the most disadvantaged members of the community”.

Some of the wards covered by North East Lincolnshire Council are among the most socially and economically disadvantaged in the country, and the report acknowledged that a high proportion of CLS’ users were looked-after children, unaccompanied asylum seekers, those recovering from mental health problems or unemployed.

“For many of these young people and adults, CLS offers their only option to continue with their education after having failed at school and other providers,” it said.

“Learners demonstrate a high level of respect for one another and for their tutors and support workers. Learners from a wide range of different backgrounds and with many challenges in their personal lives work together effectively in lessons. They support each other well.”

 Councillor Peter Wheatley, the cabinet member for skills, said progress had been made “in lots of areas” but the council “recognises the need for focus and pace in some key areas and as a result accepts the findings”.

“CLS is delivered to some of the most disadvantaged members of our community, and that can sometimes present its own difficulties in terms of attendance and progression options for the users,” he said.

“Whilst we accept the findings of the report, inevitably, we will always face some challenges in delivery.”