Darlington College tumbles from grade one to four

A North East England college has tumbled from an outstanding Ofsted rating to inadequate, an inspection report published today (March 20) revealed.

Darlington College was slapped with a grade four-across-the-board rating following the inspection that took place from February 9 to 13, with inspectors finding that managers and governors had failed to take action as the quality of its provision “deteriorated considerably”  over “several years and failed to take effective actions to reverse the decline”.

It was a dramatic fall from grace from the college’s last inspection in 2009, when it was deemed outstanding-across-the-board and praised for its high success rates.

Inspectors criticised teaching standards at the 5,000-learner college in today’s report, as well as the “poor” success rates for 16 to 18-year-old learners on study programmes, which made up 55 per cent of the college’s provision in February.

The report added: “Teachers’ questioning techniques and assessment in lessons are often ineffective and fail to allow all learners to contribute and develop their skills and knowledge.

“Not enough lessons engage, motivate or challenge learners, including those who are more able; too many teachers plan insufficient variety of learning activities suitable for all learners.”

It also criticised arrangements for work experience as “weak”.

Darlington College principal Kate Roe said the result was “very disappointing”.

“The challenges we face are known to us and we are already tackling the issues highlighted in this report,” she said.

“The whole college is determined to address the findings of Ofsted and return the college to an improved inspection grade at the earliest opportunity.

“Ofsted looked at a number of areas where there are weaknesses but there are other excellent areas of teaching and learning which were not included in the inspection on this particular occasion.”

The report acknowledged that Ms Roe was only appointed to the role last summer and had taken steps to address the college’s problems.

“A new principal and deputy principal were appointed less than a year before the inspection,” the report said.

“They have jointly worked hard to reverse the college’s fortunes by adopting a tougher approach to performance management, strengthening the governing body, recruiting new staff and applying more stringent criteria for assessing teachers’ performance.

“Early indications suggest evidence of improvements in a few aspects of the college’s provision, but it is too early to assess the full impact of all of the measures that the senior team has taken.”

Inspectors also noted the college had brought in new, experienced governors “following concerns about the poor attendance of a minority of governors”, but added the “governors have not had a sufficient impact on the overall quality of the college’s provision”.

To improve the college’s performance, inspectors called for the college to “hold teachers accountable for their learners’ outcomes”.

The report added the college must “ensure that recently introduced performance management measures accurately identify weaker teaching and learning and take swift improvement actions”.

The report’s publication comes weeks after concerns were raised that Ofsted’s system for flagging up falling standards in outstanding providers was “insecure”.

In January two previously outstanding providers, Four Counties Training Limited  and Venture Learning Limited (VL) were branded inadequate after not being inspected for a total of 12 years.

Barry Lord-Gambles, contracts director for VL, said: “The current regime of inspections is of no benefit to providers. It provides a very insecure comfort blanket.”

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