The nation’s largest college group and its troubled private training provider have officially been downgraded to ‘requires improvement’, after Ofsted published inspection reports on the pair this morning.

FE Week revealed last week that NCG and Intraining were expected to receive poor ratings – down from their previous ‘good’ overall, following serious concerns about their achievement rates and management.

Ofsted noted some ‘good’ provision at the group. However, its chief executive has since hit back and claimed the current inspection framework is “no longer fit for purpose when inspecting college groups”.

Inspectors observed that NCG’s “leaders’ and managers’ actions do not bring about rapid enough improvement to rectify weaknesses in, for example, learners’ attendance, the quality of training on apprenticeships and the quality of teaching, learning and assessment on too much of the study programme provision”.

Inspectors noted that in the last 18 months, “executive leaders” have spent a “substantial amount of their time on due diligence for the mergers with Carlisle College and Lewisham Southwark College, as well as reviewing other merger requests”.

Governors are now “clear that there needs to be a period of consolidation on what the group offers in order to reach their ambition of being a group of consistently high-performing divisions”.

At Intraining, which is currently cutting staff numbers owing to financial trouble, inspectors found that the NCG board “does not provide managers with sufficient challenge on the underperformance of apprenticeships”.

The group has extremely low achievement rates. In 2016/17, the combined overall apprenticeship achievement rate for NCG’s colleges was just 55.6 per cent, while Intraining’s was 58 per cent.

Both are around 10 points lower than the national average of 67.7 per cent, and lower than the minimum threshold of 62 per cent, according to the latest government data.

Ofsted recognised this: “Leaders and managers have not been successful enough in rectifying many of the weaknesses in learners’ outcomes. Too many learners are not achieving their potential, particularly in English and mathematics.”

Too many apprentices make “slow progress, and as a result do not complete their apprenticeship within their planned timescale”.

And for apprentices due to complete their training in the current academic year, in-year performance records show the proportion to be “higher”, but “it still requires improvement”.

Ofsted added that across the group, achievement rates on study programmes “vary too much and, in too many cases, are not high enough”.

However, senior leaders at NCG are “fully aware of the weaknesses in apprenticeship provision” and since September 2017, they have placed a “strong emphasis on improving the quality of apprenticeships and, in most divisions, new leaders have been appointed”.

There was ‘good’ provision found at NCG. The group was given grade three ratings in six of the eight headline fields – but grade twos for adult learning programmes and provision for high-needs learners.

The college provides courses for over 8,800 adult learners, for whom the quality of teaching, learning and assessment is “consistently good, and this is reflected in the positive outcomes for learners in achieving their qualifications”.

The quality of provision for learners with high needs is “good; teachers are skilled at supporting learners to gain the skills and confidence to prepare them for their next steps”.

Ofsted noted that the NCG governance arrangements are being reformed under new chair and former ESFA boss Peter Lauener, but currently governors “do not always provide sufficiently effective support or challenge to senior leaders across the group”.

As a result of its official grade three, NCG is now expected to be dropped from the government’s final bidding round for Institutes of Technology.

NCG is comprised of Newcastle College, Newcastle Sixth Form College, West Lancashire College, Carlisle College, Kidderminster College and Lewisham Southwark College. It also has two private training providers in Rathbone Training and Intraining.

The group’s chief executive Joe Docherty said there is “no getting away from the fact that these are very disappointing results” but a “single inspection grade across the six NCG colleges masks stronger performance in some areas and weaker performance in others”.  

He added that NCG has “pioneered the college group model, and the current Ofsted inspection framework for FE is no longer fit for purpose when inspecting college groups”.

“We need greater transparency when college groups are inspected and we’re pleased to be making the case to Ofsted for college-level inspections.”

NCG will introduce a new college “campus identifier” field into individualised learner records from 2018/19. It hopes this will pave the way for campus-level Ofsted inspections.

Latest education roles from

Learning Mentor – Enhance Curriculum – Full time 40 weeks per year

Learning Mentor – Enhance Curriculum – Full time 40 weeks per year

MidKent College

ESOL Lecturer

ESOL Lecturer

MidKent College

Estates Project Manager

Estates Project Manager

Hull College

Mental Health & Wellbeing Adviser

Mental Health & Wellbeing Adviser

Barnet and Southgate College

Curriculum Manager – Maths

Curriculum Manager – Maths

Barnet and Southgate College

Head of Langdon College (London)

Head of Langdon College (London)

Kisharon Langdon

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I agree that the absence of individual college grades and/or sufficiently detailed commentary in the report is tough on local staff and communities where performance is better.

    As just one example, there has obviously been significant progress in a relatively short time at the Lewisham Southwark College – from its double grade 4 in 2015 to very strong results last year (in the top 4 London colleges), a positive final monitoring report and now self-assessment at grade 2 – which local staff report was seen by Ofsted as valid and reliable. They fully accept the college’s recovery is not complete and areas for improvement remain but for no mention of this is the group report musty be completely dispiriting for staff who seem to have been doing a good job. Likewise, residents in the boroughs have no reliable or accurate picture of their college and with AEB devolution on the way it could lead to funds being diverted away unfairly.

    Having said that, the attempt to divert attention onto Ofsted and the inspection framework displays little humility or empathy with the learners that have been let down. One of the primary roles of any group is to ensure consistency across colleges/campuses.

    What must be most worrying for NCG is that the longest established parts of the group, and those physically closest to its centre appear, to be of greatest concern – a case of corporate hyperopia?

    Consistency is achieved by focussing on the day to day provision (rather than grand growth plans) with challenging and supportive performance management of local leaders by those with a deep understanding of education and learning – the centre cannot just be seen as a remote ‘bank’ and compliance function. This should act as a bellwether for other mega-college groups formed through the area review.

  2. ncl coll Student

    As a student at the mother college, Newcastle college for the last two and a bit years its not hard to see why students are not passing and standards are dropping.

    As the group gets larger the financial restrain gets tighter. Its not hard to see money from the succeeding institutions are being poured into developing the new ones which leaves them financially stripped.

    A college where student and staff moral are at an all time low, a college where students are not able to say a good word or even say they could tell the principle from the milkman.

    Staff are constantly in fear of job loss due to another revolutionary restructure, most over worked and many if not all departments running on a skeleton crew. Some staff even running/teaching two or three courses, leaving them over stressed and over worked and the students unable to get the teaching they need to succeed.

    We have a college of around 17000 students in 17/18 alone crammed into 4 canteens plus the staff on top, a ever growing domineering HE provision pushing FE out the way.

    Students become disengaged when their institution are not able to provide consistent teaching-especially if you start the year by showing up to your English/Maths class and being turned away due to over filling.

    There are departments that over look and dismiss mental health when faced with feed back on ice breakers.

    They tell us to be the best but struggle to provide us with the necessary facilities to do so, though it boast the physical facilities it owns that is not always what is needed.

    NCG need to take a good long look at its self and refocus and remember education is about students, moulding the future of this world not becoming a giant money orientated money focused ‘coorpiration’-despised by many.

    Its all good and well blaming Ofsted but its you failing the young people who put their trust in you. There is no water that could wash that shame.

    Ask the students their views, dont boast student voice if you struggle to actually get authentic true student opinion or even try to do so for that matter. Listening to the very people who put you in the job in the first place comes with the responsibility of taking action. Numbers and spreadsheets will not tell you what is really wrong.

    Jump down from your Ivory tower, Joe.