The first specialist college to achieve an outstanding grade under Ofsted’s tough new inspection regime has been announced.

David Lewis College, in Cheshire, which supports students aged 14 to 25 with complex learning difficulties, scored grade ones across all fields after it was inspected by the education watchdog in March.

The Ofsted report said: “The curriculum is outstanding. Learners are placed on courses at a level appropriate to their needs and personalised according to their changing circumstances.

“Learners benefit from extensive access to learning within the community and work placements.”

Billy McInally, the college’s director of education, told FE Week: “We’re absolutely delighted, particularly as the report recognises the work of everybody.

“Staff have been given the best training possible and share good practice through joint observations, attending meetings dedicated to sharing practice and having an open door policy. Everybody helps each other to improve.”

He said the nature of the needs his learners presented offered a “significant level of challenge”, but added: “Teaching our young people is different but it’s certainly not harder than a mainstream FE college — it just requires a slightly different approach.

“You can’t be successful unless you put the young person at the centre of everything — we base our curriculum on the needs of the individual.”

The college, made up of 87 students; 15 teachers and around 70 support staff, caters for learners with complex epilepsy, autism and learning difficulties and had its last inspection in 2007, resulting in a grade two result.

The report at the time said: “Many learners make good progress in their communication skills.

“However, the approach to increasing the communication skills for learners with complex needs is not sufficiently developed.”

It added: “The tracking and monitoring of learner progress is adequate, although the college recognises it requires further development.”

However, the achievement of the grade one result came under Ofsted’s new inspection framework, introduced from September. The framework includes a reduced inspection notice period from three weeks to two days and a potential re-inspection of providers ‘requiring improvement’ within 12 to 18 months.

You can’t be successful unless you put the young person at the centre of everything”

But the college’s glowing new Ofsted report highlighted the skills, enthusiasm and high quality practice of teachers, therapists and of specialist support staff.

“Staff work very well together to provide a high quality experience for the learners. Middle management is strong and provides excellent leadership for course teams,” said the report.

“Leadership and management are outstanding because of the relentless and successful drive for continuous improvement since the last inspection.”

Mr McInally said: “A process was put in place after our last inspection and we have been working towards improving our work for a number of years.

“This is recognition of that five years’ hard work and I am particularly pleased that Ofsted recognised the positive contribution of our entire college community.

“I would like to thank them all for the contributions they make, ensuring our students receive an outstanding learning experience, one that meets their individual needs.”

He added: “There is no doubt that by working together we can guarantee that the provision we offer our young people continues to be among the very best in the entire country.”

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