Barnfield becoming talk of the sector — for the right reasons

Two visits from FE Commissioner Dr David Collins triggered first by financial problems and secondly by an Ofsted inadequate rating was the scene into which Tim Eyton-Jones stepped in February. Dr Collins has since drawn a line under his involvement and inspectors have also seen improvements. Mr Eyton-Jones spells out what’s been happening at Barnfield.

Barnfield College has history. A few years ago it was a highly respected college with an excellent reputation and an outstanding Ofsted report. It was a college that inspired other colleges — a college with fantastic industry links and a college whose students had won national awards year-after-year. I could go on.

So what went wrong? The senior managers and governors lost sight of the college’s primary business. Instead of concentrating on putting the student first and ensuring their success, they concentrated on building an empire — the Barnfield Federation — which included a whole host of other providers. They took their eye off the ball and the quality of teaching and learning at the college plummeted.

If the college was going to make any progress, we had to start from scratch and take tough decisions

In November 2014, Barnfield College received the worst Ofsted report in the whole country. Every key area observed was deemed ‘inadequate’ and inspectors struggled to find a single positive thing to say about the college. To top it all, the college was accused of financial mismanagement — a scandal that hit the national media.

I remember my first day as principal of Barnfield College very clearly — it was February 1, 2015. I stood and watched the students as they arrived at the front entrance. Their behaviour was appalling and the atmosphere was intimidating. I asked the (then) curriculum managers for information about the quality of teaching and learning in their respective areas, but their replies were vague and about everything and anything else.

If the college was going to make any progress, we had to start from scratch and take tough decisions. Links with Barnfield Federation were severed so we could focus on our core business. A new board and chair had already been appointed which left me free to focus on the college. Together with the new chair and board, I wrote a new three-year Development Plan entitled Reclaiming Excellence, which set out our values and vision for the future.

Our students are now at the heart of everything we do. We want them to be successful on their course so they progress on to a relevant destination, but we also want them to develop as individuals so they become respected and valued members of the community. To enable them to achieve this, our priority is for them to experience excellent teaching and learning and an active enrichment programme in an outstanding learning environment. We have set ourselves high targets for their performance. Giving students a voice has also been key — they now have their say in everything we do, from staff recruitment to the governance of the college. It’s their college after all.

We’ve achieved a lot in 10 months. We now have a fantastic staff team, as over one third of the staff have changed, mostly managers, but there’s still a lot more to do. Following the financial problems of last year, we are proud to have received an ‘outstanding’ for our financial plans from the Skills Funding Agency — something not many colleges can boast about today. We are still under close scrutiny, which is to be expected, but we are pleased to announce that the college is now showing improvements in all areas, with exceptional improvements in apprenticeships for both quality and numbers. It is now fast developing into one of the biggest and most successful areas of the college.

When I was welcoming the students at 9am this morning, my thoughts went back to February 1 and it’s quite remarkable how much has changed in such a short space of time. If you asked any of our students, they’d tell you that they are proud of their college now. I know I certainly am. In three years’ time I really believe that Barnfield College will be the talk of the sector once again, but for all the right reasons.


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