‘Significant strides’ made towards addressing safety concerns at Shrewsbury college, says FE Commissioner

A college has been praised by the FE Commissioner for making “significant strides” towards ensuring its campuses safe, after Ofsted accused it of safeguarding failures that led to a grade four.

Such improvements at Shrewsbury Colleges Group include employing additional security personnel as well as enforcing the wearing of lanyards by all students and staff.

The college was downgraded by Ofsted from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’ in March, following an inspection in November found “not all students feel safe in the college,” and a small number of vulnerable students felt “intimidated” around the college.

Leaders and managers were criticised for having “not taken sufficient steps to help ensure the safety of students”, and were told to develop “as a matter of urgency” a detailed and effective safeguarding risk assessment for the college’s estates.

That ‘inadequate’ grade was challenged by the college group, but this fell flat following a second visit from Ofsted in March.

The subsequent grade four report triggered an intervention by FE Commissioner Richard Atkins, who assessed the college with his team through an onsite and a virtual visit in September.

His report, released today, said the college group’s leaders and board “responded well to the safeguarding issues that were raised by the Ofsted inspection and have improved onsite security”.

New measures, such as employing extra security and “consistently” enforcing the wearing of lanyards by all students and staff, means students say “they now feel safer and it is now not possible for unidentified persons to access the college sites”.

Additional security measures, such as barrier security in the car parks, are also in the pipeline, and funding received from the group’s partnership with grade one Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group on the College Collaboration Fund will “seek to address any remaining challenges with safeguarding”.

In a letter attached to the report, dated for yesterday, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan commended the “significant strides towards addressing areas for improvement identified by Ofsted”.

The college had to implement further safety measures for the Covid-19 pandemic, and the commissioner’s report says senior leadership “responded well” to measures which were observed during the intervention visit as “rigorous and appearing to be working well”.

Its finances were also assessed as being in good shape, with the board even predicting performance in 2020-21 will be “slightly improved”.

Principal James Staniforth said: “The commissioner’s report reflects the dedication of staff throughout the college in continuously improving safeguarding and their hard work to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of students during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The commissioner makes a number of recommendations in relation to strategic planning and leadership development that we are working through.

“We look forward to another visit by the commission in March 2021.”

The college has been handed a list of recommendations, including a new strategic plan, which must review its current designation as a sixth form college, and develop a comprehensive estates strategy.

The commissioner’s report said “significant” extra work is needed to “establish a single culture across the group which combines the expectations and culture of a sixth form college, with those of a general FE college”.

The “aging” estate also needs “significantly” more maintenance and investment, if “costly problems are not to be stored up for future years”.

Shrewsbury Colleges Group was formed in August 2016 from a merger of Shrewsbury Sixth Form College and Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology.

A-levels are delivered at two sixth form campuses in Shrewsbury town centre, while technical and vocational programmes are based at the former FE college site on the edge of town.