A college group has been left shocked after being downgraded to ‘requires improvement’ just a year after it was judged as ‘good’ by Ofsted.
The TEC Partnership – which teaches over 6,500 students across several campuses in the Yorkshire and Humber region and Lincolnshire – was inspected in May 2022 and handed a grade two in a report published two months later.
Ofsted’s inspection handbook states that FE providers judged ‘good’ will “normally be inspected within five years of the publication of their previous inspection report”.
But the TEC Partnership received another call from the inspectorate in September 2023, during the busy student induction and enrolment period. Inspectors then conducted a three-day inspection between September 26 and 29, and published an overall grade three verdict this week.
A spokesperson for the TEC Partnership told FE Week the college group was “very surprised” by the timescale and resulting judgment, adding that there is an “emotional toll” attached to each inspection.
“We were repeatedly told there had been no trigger and it was within the usual inspection cycle as we were due an enhanced inspection,” a spokesperson said.
“We are very mindful of the emotional and organisational toll that an inspection takes on staff; particularly in September when we were in the throes of student induction and enrolment, and so soon after the previous inspection.”
Ofsted launched “enhanced” inspections of colleges in September 2022, which involves judging each college’s contribution to meeting “skills needs”. It has a commitment to inspect all colleges between September 2022 and 2025 using the “enhanced” inspection regime.
Ofsted reiterated this pledge when FE Week asked why the watchdog chose to reinspect the TEC Partnership within 15 months of its last ‘good’ inspection. A spokesperson added: “We use a broad range of information to assess risk and performance when selecting providers for inspection.”
The grade three report for TEC Partnership judged the college group as ‘good’ in every theme barring leadership and management, which was deemed ‘requires improvement’ and led to the same rating being applied overall.
Ofsted’s latest report said leaders have “recently developed a renewed vision and carried out a restructure of the organisation with the aim of developing a standardised and efficient partnership approach to their operation”, which includes approaches to “quality assurance, safeguarding and business support functions”.
However, the watchdog warned “too many” of the actions taken to achieve this “have not been implemented rapidly or effectively enough”. Staff have been left “uncertain about the reasons for the changes or what will happen next, and many express dissatisfaction with the approach that leaders are taking,” the report said.
Inspectors noted that across all TEC Partnership campuses, teaching and support staff work “hard to ensure that learners and apprentices receive a good quality of education”.
However, “too many” staff have “heavy schedules”, are “having to cover teaching vacancies” and have “high workloads”.
On top of this, while Ofsted found safeguarding to be “effective” it warned there are “inconsistencies” in this area across the college group’s different sites.
A TEC Partnership spokesperson said: “The report acknowledges that plans are in place and being delivered successfully and this seems at odds with the timeframe for the inspection and the grade profile for leadership and management.”
The spokesperson added that staff are “absolutely right” to raise issues around increasing workload due to staff shortages, which is a nationally recognised issue in education.
“Staff shortages due to difficulty in filling vacancies is our number one risk, as we explained to Ofsted, and we are doing all we can to address this,” they added.
“Since the inspection, improvements have been made to the salary scales for teaching roles in November and further improvements are being recommended to the board next week. All of this was planned before the group was re-inspected, as we were already very well aware of the challenges the sector faces.”
The spokesperson said the TEC Partnership has been through a period of “unprecedented but necessary change” since the inspection in May 2022, adding that the group is “fully committed to improving and are actively listening to staff concerns through additional engagement processes”.