The college, which teaches almost 10,000 students, received the watchdog’s top grade for the second time in 10 years in a glowing report published today.
‘Outstanding’ schools and colleges began to be inspected again from September 2021 for the first time since 2010, after an exemption was removed by chief inspector Amanda Spielman.
Enhanced inspections for colleges then launched in September 2022 to include an assessment and sub-judgement of how well a college is contributing to addressing skills gaps in the local, regional and national economy.
Since then, two other ‘outstanding’ colleges have been inspected – both declining to ‘good’.
Exeter College was judged to be making a “strong” contribution to skills needs – the highest possible rating.
Principal John Laramy told FE Week he was “heartened” by the report, especially as “it will be the first time that a college has secured ‘outstanding’ overall, and the top grade for the enhanced inspection, which was perhaps starting to look like it might be impossible”.
“We were obviously delighted as the bar is so high now for ‘outstanding’, and the fact we’ve not been inspected for sort of over eight years it is really impressive. The team here do a fantastic job. And I think what’s lovely is you can’t make it up on the day for a particular inspection. You get credit, I think, for things you’ve been doing well, for a long period of time.”
Exeter College offers a variety of courses to its 6,640 young students aged 16 to 18, 880 adults, 1,800 apprentices and 235 high-needs learners.
The college scored ‘outstanding’ in all areas apart from in its provision for learners with high needs, which scored ‘good’.
Ofsted’s report draws on the promising experiences of high achieving learners who thrive in a supportive and caring environment.
Teachers and staff are praised as “excellent role models” and “learners and apprentices treat each other and the college staff with high levels of respect”.
Inspectors highlighted how students learn “substantial new knowledge, skills and behaviours quickly” because of the “high quality of teaching they receive from their teachers and trainers”.
Staff are described as “professional, friendly, very supportive and work tirelessly to meet the needs of their learners and apprentices”.
The college environment is “calm and highly aspirational”. The report describes the “well planned teaching sessions which develop motivation in the learners as well as creating a positive environment and a culture where bullying and harassment are never tolerated”.
Elsewhere in the report, teachers were praised for their highly effective sequencing of the content of the curriculum.
“For example, adult health and social care learners discover about the heart and circulation systems in biology before learning about the effect of stress on the cardiovascular system in psychology.”
Additionally, the report describes how teachers and support staff “intervene swiftly and effectively to support any learner or apprentice who falls behind in their studies”.
The college also makes a strong contribution to meeting skills needs, “contributing significantly to the digital sector in the region and to the need for retrofit construction skills in the local area”.
Rob Bosworth, Exeter College’s deputy chief executive, told FE Week he has been building these partnership relationships for over 20 years.
“The way we do it is we live and breathe everything in the community, regardless of how big the group is. The college is there to serve the needs of the community.”
The report describes how leaders quickly recognised the challenges for Ukrainian refugees and created custom-made packages to support this community and help them become active citizens.
“As a result, leaders and managers ensure that their relationships with stakeholders are successful in improving the opportunities for those in the community who are the most disadvantaged.”
See this week’s edition of FE Week for an extended interview with principal John Laramy about how his college achieved the feat.