London’s Croydon College has been told to “harmonise cultures” by the FE Commissioner after Ofsted judged it as ‘inadequate’ due to “inappropriate” behaviour.
The FE Commissioner’s team visited the south London college in June after a “significant minority” of students reported instances of homophobic language and “taunting” behaviour which left female learners feeling uncomfortable.
Ofsted dealt the college a grade four report in May to the “surprise” of its leaders. Most criticism was targeted at “behaviour and attitudes” at the college’s Coulsdon campus.
The FE Commissioner’s follow-up intervention report, published today, said work to ensure all learners at Coulsdon feel safe whilst attending college has been strengthened through increased visibility of staff (including senior managers), teachers more consistently challenging and confronting poor learner behaviour, and effective consultation with staff and students.
Students at both Coulsdon and the college’s Croydon campus now report that behaviour is “respectful, positive, and tolerant between peers and staff”.
Croydon College merged with Coulsdon Sixth Form College in March 2019. Ofsted previously criticised leaders for a “considerable variation” in the quality of teaching across the two colleges.
Today’s FE Commissioner report echoed this concern and warned that “organisational progress” since the merger has been “too slow”, particularly the formation of a “single organisational identity through harmonisation of cultures and purpose”.
“Many” staff and students interviewed “were not able to identify a consistent set of college values. This will need to be addressed if senior leaders are to successfully establish a corporate culture across both colleges,” the report added.
The college’s chief executive, Caireen Mitchell, has now been tasked with developing a strategy to “provide purpose, harmonise cultures, and reinforce values, which needs to be applied to all college processes”.
‘We are encouraged by the positive observations’
A new management structure has been introduced since the Ofsted inspection, but it was “too early to judge” how effective it is at the time of the FE Commissioner’s visit.
While the FE Commissioner’s team highlighted many areas of “progress”, they said the pace of “corrective action” needs to be increased to ensure “timely improvements to the 16- to 18-year-old learner experience and their outcomes”.
As part of this, the college’s chair, governance professional, and chief executive have been told to develop and implement a strategy for ensuring governors “understand what it is like to be a student at Croydon College”.
The “significant volume” of data and information produced by the college also needs to be managed more effectively to be accessible, inform decisions, report performance, and drive actions for improvement.
The FE Commissioner’s report said student attendance and punctuality are still too low, but recognised progress has been made to “marginally improve” this area.
Leaders at Croydon College were praised for gaining ‘outstanding’ financial health through careful management of cash, operating surpluses, and capital expenditure. Even if the Ofsted result causes a dip in student recruitment over the short term, the college is well positioned to absorb any associated reduction in income, the FE Commissioner’s report said.
Overall, governors are “confident that recent changes to the college leadership structure have strengthened the leadership team’s capacity to steer the college through its journey of improvement”.
One of the FE Commissioner’s national leaders in further education will continue to assist the principal of the Coulsdon campus for the 2023/24 academic year.
The college teaches over 2,500 young learners – around two-thirds of whom studied at Croydon with a third at Coulsdon – as well as over 2,600 adult learners, around 200 apprentices and 200 students with high needs.
In a joint statement, principal Caireen Mitchell and chair Tony Stevenson, said: “The merging of the two colleges in 2019 presented significant challenges, not least because of the lasting impact of the Covid pandemic. We are therefore encouraged to see the FE Commissioner recognise the senior leadership’s approach to creating a harmonised, single-college culture.
“Achievement for the group is now in line with the national average, and we were pleased to celebrate many individual success stories this summer of students securing high grades and coveted places at prestigious universities or corporate training schemes. This has been followed by a very healthy enrolment for 2023/24 at both colleges, which reflects the positive perception of our colleges in the community.
“We are encouraged by the positive observations of the FE Commissioner, as we forge ahead with our quality improvement plan, and our shared ambition to achieve a ‘good’ Ofsted rating.”