A troubled adult residential college has been praised for its efforts in tackling poor safeguarding, in the first FE Commissioner intervention report to be published in over a year.
Shelagh Legrave’s team visited Ruskin College in February following an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report several months earlier that came after years of turmoil.
Inspectors found that college leaders were “unable to identify and protect learners who may be at risk or need help”, “do not know about significant personal challenges that some vulnerable adults faced while in their care” and were “unable to help staff to keep these learners safe”.
Leaders also acknowledged at the time of Ofsted’s visit that they had 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.
In a report published today, the FE Commissioner commended the college’s leaders for their efforts in addressing the concerns raised by inspectors.
“Leaders and managers acknowledge the weaknesses, identified by the recent Ofsted inspection, that have triggered intervention,” the report said. “They describe the impact as galvanising them to take rapid action on safeguarding and compliance coupled with more bespoke policies and training. Students we met valued the support they get and confirmed they feel safe in college.”
Proposals are also “well advanced” to establish a new Ruskin College quality group, which “should provide a more focussed mechanism to monitor and enhance the quality of provision”.
Ruskin College, based in Oxford and founded in 1899, focuses on adult learners and its offer includes Access to HE diplomas, English for speakers of other languages courses, and trade union courses accredited by the TUC.
It has been subject to a financial notice to improve from the Department for Education since 2014 and has spent most years since battling poor finances that threatened its future mainly due to falling enrolments.
In recent years its principal has been fired following a significant funding clawback, and the college was forced into a last-minute merger with the University of West London in August 2021.
Today’s FE Commissioner report states that Ruskin College has made “important progress” in improving its financial performance after years of decline and contraction.
“There is a clear educational vision for the college (the ‘skills escalator’) that builds on the Ruskin tradition of widening participation through a portfolio of FE and HE programmes, though there are some gaps in the current curriculum offer that limit opportunities for students to progress,” the report said.
“Governors and senior leaders recognise that rebuilding the provision from the low base inherited on acquisition may take time. Challenges remain to grow FE provision to make best use of the funding available for the benefit of students and to secure sustainability.”
FE Week was unable to reach the college for comment at the time of going to press.
First FE Commissioner intervention report of 2023
The volume of FE Commissioner intervention visits and reports has fallen since Legrave took on the job from her predecessor Richard Atkins in 2021. There were 20 published in 2020, but only one in 2021, three in 2022 and Ruskin College is the first of 2023.
Despite the limited number of formal intervention reports, Legrave told FE Week in November she feels her team has been as visible as ever to the sector through their “active support” visits, which focus on preventing struggling colleges from going into formal intervention.
Under this scheme, any college can request help and support from the FE Commissioner through a diagnostic assessment – a process that was previously only open to colleges where a new principal had been appointed.
In 2021/22 there were 31 of these active support visits to colleges.