College complaint forces Ofsted to reopen grade 4 inspection

Ofsted inspectors will return to a college after the principal questioned the accuracy of serious safeguarding failure claims that led to a provisional ‘inadequate’ rating.

Shrewsbury Colleges Group, which teaches more than 9,000 students mostly aged 16 to 18, insisted the judgement from an inspection in November was “wrong”.

Its principal, James Staniforth, told FE Week that he had “never experienced anything like it” after working for 27 years in education.

Ofsted have subsequently deemed the inspection to be incomplete

The Education and Skills Funding Agency required the college to appoint an independent review of safeguarding by an approved consultant following a referral from Ofsted.

The consultant undertook a two day of audit at the end of January and concluded in a 10 page report, seen by FE Week, that “having visited and worked at many colleges across the country, Shrewsbury Colleges Group is one of the safest”.

“Every effort has been made by the senior leadership team and safeguarding team to ensure the continued safety of both students and staff,” it added.

“There is a strong culture of safeguarding evident which is underpinned by established policies and procedures. There is substantial evidence to support this statement as detailed in the report.”

Staniforth has now told FE Week: “Ofsted have subsequently deemed the inspection to be incomplete and will be returning to complete the inspection. 

“We are delighted that Ofsted will now have another opportunity to review the wide range of evidence we have regarding safeguarding.”

He said the college submitted a formal complaint after the draft report criticised the college’s safeguarding provision because they felt the team involved had run out of time and were not able to review the available evidence.

“We are a safe place to study and we are confident that the evidence available will demonstrate the effectiveness of our safeguarding practices,” Staniforth added.

The principal said the college looks forward to Ofsted returning and will await their judgement.

He also extended acknowledgments to “our excellent staff for their hard work in keeping students safe” and thanked students, parents, employers and partners for their support during “this difficult process”.

Staff were informed of the revisit this morning.

Ofsted declined to comment.

Shrewsbury Colleges Group previously denied safeguarding was “ineffective” and claimed the “judgement was changed on the final day of the inspection without adequate explanation”.

It did admit, however, that West Mercia Police were called to an incident during the inspection, after a suspended student tried to regain entry to college.

At the time a spokesperson told FE Week the force had “reassured us, in the light of enquiries by this Ofsted inspection team, that they consider our college campuses to be safe”.

There is a strong culture of safeguarding evident

The inspectorate had been set to report that students and staff do not feel safe and the college had not taken sufficient steps to help ensure their safety.

Inspectors also allegedly found that staff required to carry out site security roles have not received adequate training and necessary risk assessments to ensure effective safeguarding covering the college estate were not in place.

The college denied these accusations.

Shrewsbury Sixth Form College and Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology merged to become Shrewsbury Colleges Group in August 2016.

Both FE providers were rated ‘good’ in their final inspections before the merger. The group is now based across three campuses with a turnover of £23 million.

The group’s first inspection took place between 26 and 29 November 2019.

If the draft report had been published, it would have been the first general FE college to receive a grade four in nearly two years.