A college for disadvantaged adults has officially been downgraded to ‘inadequate’ after Ofsted found poor safeguarding practices that fails to protect learners.
Ruskin College fell two grades from ‘good’ in a report published today. This was the college’s first inspection since being taken over by the University of West London (UWL) in August 2021 following a turbulent period.
Ofsted’s report includes many positives about students’ experience and the delivery of teaching.
But, as FE Week reported last month, it was ineffective safeguarding arrangements which caused the college to be hit with Ofsted’s lowest possible grade.
Ofsted’s report said the college’s leaders are “unable to identify and protect learners who may be at risk or need help”. Leaders “do not know about significant personal challenges that some vulnerable adults faced while in their care” and are “unable to help staff to keep these learners safe”.
Leaders acknowledge that they have failed to follow their internal safeguarding procedures, for example by not ensuring that staff are safe to work with vulnerable adults while waiting for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.
Staff do not know how to identify and report safeguarding concerns because they have not completed the relevant training. As a result, staff develop their own individualised responses when vulnerable adults disclose concerns or issues and leaders are unaware of the advice given.
Today’s report makes Ruskin College the only “institute for adult learning” – as classified by Ofsted – to hold an ‘inadequate’ grade.
Ofsted acknowledged that Ruskin College has undergone a period of “significant change” since being taken over by UWL, adding that due to the newness of many of the organisational structures, leaders have “not yet fully implemented a system of governance and oversight which provides effective challenge to managers around quality assurance”.
A UWL spokesperson said: “While we are naturally disappointed with Ofsted’s findings in respect of the college’s safeguarding processes, we acknowledge and accept that improvements are required in this area. We are committed to making these improvements as a matter of priority as we work to ensure the highest standards in all aspects of the college’s performance.
“The ‘good’ assessment received in the other three areas of the report, after only a year under new ownership, supports our confidence that our objectives for the college are achievable.”
Oxford-based Ruskin College, founded in 1899, designs its courses for local residents furthest from the labour market, those who are socially isolated and those seeking a second chance at education.
Its offer includes Access to HE diplomas, English for speakers of other languages courses, and trade union courses accredited by the TUC.
The college has been subject to a financial notice to improve from the Department for Education since 2014. The notice was reissued in November 2020 when the Department for Education placed the college in supervised status following a report by then-FE Commissioner Richard Atkins which said the provider faced an “uncertain future” due to deteriorating finances caused by falling enrolments.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency also clawed back more than £5 million, an issue which led to the firing of former principal Paul Di Felice, and the college was told to find a strong merger partner to secure its future.
At the time of Ofsted’s inspection, there were 374 learners enrolled.
The watchdog found that learners are “very positive” about their experience at Ruskin College which, for many, is a “much-welcomed second chance at education”.
Learners “value the support they receive from staff and peers, and the knowledge and experience of their tutors, which make lessons interesting and informative”.
Leaders were praised for designing an “inclusive and welcoming” curriculum while tutors “prepare learners well to be active citizens in modern Britain”.
UWL’s spokesperson said: “Overall, we have been pleased with the considerable progress which has been made since UWL’s acquisition of Ruskin College to secure its future last year, and in particular we were delighted with the recent positive report from the FE Commissioner – something we are looking to mirror with Ofsted at the earliest opportunity.”