Worth the wait: ‘Outstanding’ grade for Riverside College

A college in Cheshire that recruits most of its students from areas of “high social and economic deprivation” is celebrating after being rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Riverside College, which had its report published today following an 11-day inspection in February, was lauded by the education watchdog for applying a “culture of relentless self-improvement” which “permeates” across campus.

The college was formed in 2006 following the merger of Halton College and Widnes and Runcorn Sixth Form College. It currently teaches 3,200 young people, 1,400 adults, 603 apprentices and 136 learners with high needs.

It becomes the third general FE college to be rated ‘outstanding’ under Ofsted’s new inspection framework launched in September, following Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group and Chichester College Group.

Riverside College principal Mary Murphy said they are “absolutely thrilled that this glowing report recognises the tremendous efforts of our dedicated teaching and support staff who over a number of years have worked incredibly hard to consistently deliver high quality education and training”.

Inspectors found that learners and apprentices at Riverside “enjoy a wide range of courses that meet local and regional needs exceptionally well” and helps to ensure that most of them “progress to higher levels of study or work”.

“Their behaviour is exemplary and in keeping with the senior leaders’ and staff members’ high expectations and values,” today’s report said.

They “flourish” in a “calm, orderly, aspirational and safe learning environment”, while learners who have high needs develop the skills “they need to equip themselves for independent living, such as cooking simple meals and cleaning living areas”.

Ofsted praised the college’s attitude to community and fundraising events, with “many” learners doing voluntary work or taking part in competitions which “allow them to demonstrate that they are responsible and caring citizens”.

Engineering apprentices, for example, designed and built equipment for the Invictus Games so that athletes with physical disabilities could take part in throwing events.

Riverside College is located in the 13th most deprived borough nationally and the third most deprived in the Liverpool City Region.

Inspectors reported that leaders, managers and teachers have developed a “high-quality curriculum that widens learners’ and apprentices’ experiences and life skills” and “ensures” that disadvantaged learners develop their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Leaders also have “exceptional links” with local employers and regional business groups, including the local enterprise partnership and regional mayoral authorities, which have been utilised to create their “challenging curriculum” designed to help students “achieve their ambitious career goals”.

The curriculum has been reviewed in recent years to “ensure that there are clear progression routes for learners and apprentices”. For example, a pre-apprenticeship course prepares learners “well” by developing the employability skills and confidence they need to apply for a job with apprenticeship training.

The college’s “very strong and highly effective relationships” with its four subcontractors were also praised, who deliver a curriculum that “meets local needs exceptionally well”.

Ofsted concluded that leadership and management are “outstanding”.

Murphy said she was “delighted” that the inspectors “acknowledged the motivation and exemplary behaviour of our wonderful students, who we cannot wait to welcome back to the College as the lockdown eases”.

“However, this achievement is also attributed to all the people of Halton including Halton Borough Council, Halton Head Teachers, partners, employers, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and the young people and their parents/carers who have supported the college on our journey to outstanding over the last decade,” she added.

“We have never wavered from the belief that we could be outstanding and together we have made this happen.”