Ofsted reveals National College surviving on bailouts has just 24 classroom students

A National College due to dissolve in the new year has just 24 classroom students – its first-ever Ofsted report has revealed.

National College for the Creative and Cultural Industries (NCCI) had previously told FE Week it was confident it could attract 450 learners this year, before last year having to take a £600,000 bailout from the Department for Education to stay afloat.

Now inspectors have rated the once vaunted flagship institution as grade three for its provision to the 24 learners and 81 apprentices.

A college spokesperson claimed “many more” apprentices were due to start in the coming weeks; while an intake of level 4 classroom-based learners is planned for later in the year. They did not say how large these intakes would be.

Ofsted’s report criticises NCCI’s leaders for “not ensuring all learning coaches have the skills and knowledge to coach apprentices to develop the skills they need”.

In fact, a significant minority of coaches “do not provide good quality learning”: they do not ensure apprentices know what they have done well and what they need to do to improve, or that employers know how to help their employees link theory with workplace learning.

Leaders have not ensured learners and apprentices can move on up to higher levels to further their career; so, learners on a level 4 professional diploma have no direct route to a relevant level 5 programme.

And while the report commends governors for their relevant expertise and for challenging the leadership well, inspectors wrote: “They do always ensure the actions undertaken improves the quality of apprenticeship provision quickly enough”.

However, Ofsted rated some areas of the college as ‘good’, including the quality of education, where leaders and managers make sure apprentices and learners “significantly improve” their technical skills and develop a good knowledge of health and safety in their workplaces.

Learners came in for particular praise, with inspectors noting they are “keen to learn and have a desire to produce work to their very best ability”.

NCCI interim principal Sue Dare said she was “pleased” Ofsted highlighted those areas NCCI “does really well: the development of good technical skills and knowledge for careers in the creative industries; excellent industry links and networking opportunities; and a strong focus on career progression in to the creative sector”.

But she recognised the inconsistencies identified by inspectors and said the college has established “more robust processes” to ensure these are addressed in the future.

The report is NCCI’s first and is likely its last, as it is planning to move away from teaching by dissolving in January and setting up as a limited company to license apprenticeship provision to Access Creative College and both classroom learning and the running of its production and rehearsal venue to South Essex College.

A final decision on the proposal is due to be taken by the college’s board in December with the decision being made public later than month.

On top of the £600,000 bailout, NCCI has also benefited from a £1.25 million working capital loan from the DfE; £745,000 of which was paid out during 2017-18, with the remaining £505,000 being drawn down in 2018-19.

NCCI had an income of £1.3 million overall in 2017/18.

Only one other National College has had an Ofsted report published: Ada National College for Digital Skills, which scored a grade two.

The National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure is listed on the website but has not had a report published.

The college is currently undergoing a rebrand from the National College for High Speed Rail, after it needed a £4.55 million bailout from the DfE to sign off its 2017/18 accounts.

The DfE, which has sunk £80 million into the colleges, launched an evaluation of the scheme late last year.