College crashes two grades from ‘outstanding’ after lengthy inspection wait

A college that went nearly 10 years without being inspected by Ofsted after being rated ‘outstanding’ has crashed two grades.

Blackburn College was given a ‘requires improvement’ verdict by the inspectorate in a report published this morning, following inspection from March 14 to 17.

It comes nearly a decade after its previous full inspection in November 2007 when the college was lauded with a grade one.

The fall represents the latest in a string of ‘outstanding’ colleges to go around 10 years without inspection, only to drop two grades.

As previously reported by FE Week, Blackburn was one of 20 colleges who would have gone a full decade without inspection by the end of this year.

Leaders and managers at the college were found to not have “a sufficient oversight of the progress that students make on their courses” and “too few” students achieve the grades and “develop the skills to their full potential”.

Senior leaders have also “failed to evaluate accurately” the quality of the provision through the colleges annual self-assessment process.

The report added that managers are “overly positive” about the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and “insufficient attention” is given to how the quality of course delivery is having an impact on students’ progress.

Quality of teaching and learning was also found to be a big problem for the nearly 4,500-learner provider.

“Planning for learning on study programmes and adult learning programmes does not take into account the needs of all students, particularly the most able and, as a result, students on study programmes do not make sufficient progress to achieve their qualifications,” inspectors said.

They added that teachers focus too much on middle-ability students in most lessons and “too few students make the progress of which they are capable.

“Teachers do not set challenging enough targets, and as a result, approximately half of the students on study programmes fail to meet their target grades.”

However, students with high needs were found to “make good progress, and most achieve their personal targets and qualifications”.

Phil Watson, chair of Blackburn College, said: “The college recognises the areas of improvement identified and had begun to address those improvement areas throughout the previous year which has already resulted in the 2015/16 results in our A-level achievement rate outperforming the national rate by 2 per cent and with 94 per cent of FE students progressing into work or further study.”

Dr Thomas Moore, Blackburn College principal, added: “We are confident the hard work and commitment of staff to delivering the best possible outcomes for learners will come to even greater fruition over the forthcoming term.

“We are again on a journey towards ‘outstanding’ and have the full support of our governing body.”

Blackburn College has followed in the footsteps of two former ‘outstanding’ colleges, Bury College and Holy Cross College in Manchester, who were revisited earlier this year after 10 years without inspection and both fell two grades.

There are nine current FE providers who have been given the long respite period by Oftsed, and by the end of this year, 19 FE providers will have gone the full 10 years without inspection, as reported by FE Week last week.

The watchdog’s most recent FE and skills inspection handbook, for use from September 2016, states that providers judged ‘outstanding’ at their most recent inspection are “not normally subject to routine inspection”.

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