First 'outstanding' Ofsted rating for FE college under new framework

The first college to receive a grade one rating under Ofsted’s new inspection framework is Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group.

Inspectors graded the college ‘outstanding’ across the board, in a glowing report published this morning.

Principal Karen Dobson (pictured) said while the inspection was “intense”, getting the top grade was “absolutely brilliant” and a testament to the “hard work, talent and total commitment of our staff team”.

She paid tribute to the students, apprentices, governors and employer partners, without whom “we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this result”.

This is the first full inspection of the group since it was formed from a merger of Newcastle College and Stafford College in 2016. The latter was rated as ‘inadequate’ at its previous inspection in February 2016.

Dobson said that at the point of merger between Newcastle-under-Lyme College and Stafford College, their ambition was to make NSCG “one of the top colleges in the country and ultimately a great place to study and work”.

And she looks to have succeeded after Ofsted found leaders and managers have integrated the two campuses “rapidly” and set high expectations for both staff and learners.

Plaudits have already been coming in for the college, with the Sixth Form Colleges Association chief executive Bill Watkin saying: “To secure this judgement under an exacting new framework, and only three years on from a merger, makes its success even more remarkable.”

The report itself records NSCG’s 6,808 learners “thrive in a positive, stimulating and safe learning environment”, while also noting they enjoy their time at college very much.

And inspectors were particularly impressed by the clear, supportive and challenging direction by senior leaders at NSCG, which meant staff feel highly motivated and able to deliver an outstanding learning experience.

Teachers and trainers design a curriculum so learners and apprentices develop the specific knowledge and skills employers demand.

“For example, during a real-life project, care learners gained a deep empathy and appreciation for their clients’ needs when trying on a body suit to replicate the experience of a pregnant woman and an elderly person,” the report said.

Governors, through close scrutiny of the college’s work and the provision by 11 subcontractors, “have a clear understanding of its strengths and weaknesses and provide very effective support to leaders”.

There is “high-quality” and “unbiased” careers information, advice and guidance on offer to learners and apprentices throughout their time at college, which allows them to make informed choices about their course and future career options.

Ofsted also found there was a strong culture of safeguarding at the college, where vulnerable learners are identified quickly and ensure they are supported from harm and can continue their studies.

Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group is the first general FE college to receive a grade one in two years – the last was Fareham College in November 2017.

This latest positive result for the college sector comes after FE Week analysis, published last month, revealed 78 per cent of general FE colleges are now rated either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – a record high.

And while this is the first grade one under the new framework, several other colleges such as Tyne Coast and Bedford have already earned a grade two since the inspectorate changed reports in September.