One of London’s largest FE colleges, and a former outstanding one, has crashed to a grade four Ofsted rating.

LeSoCo, a 17,600-learner college in South London, has been graded inadequate after its latest inspection, less than two months ago.

While we fully accept the need for improvements in some areas of our teaching and learning provision, we do not recognise the grading of the college as inadequate and will appeal,”

The education watchdog’s report criticised poor teaching in engineering and foundation English and maths, as well failing to get enough apprentices through their training on time.

Among the criticisms was that the “teaching of functional skills is inadequate. In most subject areas teachers do not use the results from the initial assessment to inform the planning of learning”.

It is not yet known if the outcome is bad enough to prompt a visit from FE Commissioner David Collins, however, the college, which has a current Skills Funding Agency allocation of £26.2m, could be facing the boot from high-performing colleges’ body, the 157 Group.

Principal Maxine Room told FE Week she “did not” recognise the grading and would appeal. “While we fully accept the need for improvements in some areas of our teaching and learning provision, we do not recognise the grading of the college as inadequate and will appeal,” she said.

The college was formed of a merger in 2012 between Lewisham College — rated outstanding in 2006, before dropping to satisfactory (a grade three and now termed ‘requires improvement’) in 2012 — and Southwark College, which was graded inadequate in December 2011.

However, Ofsted said the college management of the merger had been a strength, but it nevertheless got a grade four result overall and also in the teaching, learning and assessment headline field. It was deemed to require improvement on outcomes for learners and leadership and management.

The Ofsted report said: “Staff do not set learning targets for learners or track their progress effectively. Tutorials are often unproductive [and] many learners cannot

recall when they last received a tutorial, when they were given individual targets relating to their qualification, or when they had a discussion about issues such as attendance.”

Ms Room said she was “devastated” by the outcome of the inspection and criticised the way the report appeared to let poor performance in English and maths bring down the college’s overall rating. “If you look at the proportionality of the grading, 80 per cent of the provision was grade two, and 20 per cent was grade three and four,” she said.

“The weighting on English and maths has overweighed the rest of the provision, and that is what we think is unfair.” Ms Room also said the college had a post-inspection action plan in place and that a number of visiting tutors had been removed in the past year because of poor performance.

But, she said, it was “not the time to talk about blame” and she had “no intention” of resigning. Nevertheless, she also criticised Ofsted for failing to keep the college informed about the outcome of the inspection.

Ofsted said it took complaints seriously, but would not comment on individual cases.

Lynne Sedgmore, 157 Group executive director, said it was too early to comment on LeSoCo’s future membership of the group, but said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the report.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment on whether the FE Commissioner, who was appointed as a troubleshooter for failing colleges, would be sent into LeSoCo.

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Another week, another college crashes to a grade four inspection result.

It would be wrong to ignore the fact we’re seeing more outstanding colleges, but worryingly we’re also seeing former grade ones falling to inadequate.

We’ve seen Liverpool and Stockport stumble, and Bristol became a grade four having previously been good. Now we have LeSoCo, too.

Is there a trend? It’s certainly the case that in each college Ofsted saw extreme shortcomings on teaching, learning and assessment.

Perhaps this is the truly shocking part of all this — that any college should get an inadequate grading on what is essentially a bread-and-butter task.

But what exactly has been changing at these colleges? An obvious question surrounds size — are they too big? Or maybe there are growing challenges presented by the city environment?

Certainly London has an issue, as Ofsted conceded in FE Week last year, and the LeSoCo result adds further fuel to that fire.

It would be unfair to say Skills Minister Matthew Hancock is reluctant to act having created the office of the FE Commissioner (although to learn there’s even a possibility David Collins may not be sent in to LeSoCo seems somewhat a dereliction of duty).

Investigation is needed to get under the bonnet to find out if there is a common, and hopefully rectifiable, denominator in all or just a few of these crashing colleges.

Chris Henwood, editor



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12 Comments

  1. FE Teacher

    “Investigation is needed to get under the bonnet to find out if there is a common, and hopefully rectifiable, denominator in all or just a few of these crashing colleges.”

    No doubt the solution will be to ask a judge or QC with time on their hands to produce a report which then states the obvious – that the change is to do with politics rather than education. Several million pounds will be wasted and little will be achieved.

    So what should we do? Cut OFSTED budget by 90% and replace these stupid graded inspections with helpful visits to genuinely troubled schools/colleges.

  2. David Mcloughlin

    The recent experience of ofsted has shown me that whilst inspectors worked hard to observe teaching, learning and assessment there is an incredible focus on three year trends and data that is sliced and diced every which way. If teachers perform to a good standard, students and employers are happy and the college has managers who know their data the overall grade will be good or better. If not then expect a poor grade. Simple as that.

  3. Country Bumpkin

    You might also ask, were these colleges really outstanding previously and have they fallen as far as it appears. Perhaps the opportunity for ‘stage managed’ inspections and/or the ‘maximisation’ of success rates some years back is coming back to haunt….

  4. Concerned

    This is surely political? How can they receive a grade 4 when 80% of the provision was grade 2? That does not add up.I smell a rat. Also I have been informed the grade was a 3 when the inspectors left but this was downgraded to a 4 with no warning or explanation. So OFSTED are saying that the 10 inspectors they sent in can not do their jobs?

  5. Chris Newton

    I agree with Country Bumkin, I think previous inspection gave far too long to “Prepare” and often gave inaccurate results. Our recent inspections for National Apprenticeship Programmes have shown improvement on the new inspection framework as it is now about teaching and learning rather than policies and procedures.

  6. anonymous

    This college received the highest over payment in their 12/13 adult delivery – £3.3 million, whilst many providers were not paid for their over delivery. The SFA must have known this result but still allowed them to keep this over payment of £3.3 million.

  7. anonymous

    Karma for the College who got rid of the majority of its Heads of Department and middle managers who were there when the College was outstanding in its previous inspection. Could it be that the other Colleges mentioned did the same.

    • Anonymous

      Karma for the college? Be honest and say, karma for the senior management that continue to decimated this once outstanding college! The grade 4 should have been given to them. The skills minister should be making suggestions like other grade 4’s and get rid, otherwise it will never improve!

  8. If FE colleges are said to be failing in functional English then surely we should question secondary education in this country? Why are so many students leaving school without GCSE in Englush after 11 years of schooling and why are FE are having to account for their failings?

  9. Artful Dodger

    The concentration, by senior management, in far too many colleges is on “innovation” amongst a plethora of other distractions; focusing their attention outside (and to their personal reputations) rather than inside, to teaching and learning.

  10. How odd….? Well not really, most FE colleges took their eye off maths and English under the last cabinet and there was no real focus on addressing the concerns of the passionate maths and English teachers delivering qualifications to learners’ who were disengaged and switched off, having undergone many years in school still unable to grasp the basic concepts. It is little wonder why initial diagnostics were used in tracking learner journey, when many classes have entry students to level 2, it is simply unmanageable workload. So the easier option was to adapt the learning aims and now this is no longer an option, the cracks in the system are there to be seen. It is good that this information is disclosed, and I do hope that the teachers are not clobbered as the answer. As one colleague pointed out, the learner history requires analysis and why the underpinning skills were not developed.

  11. Anonymous

    I think we have to also consider how these Colleges achieved a Grade 1 previously. Having lead on Ofsted for an independent provider for a number of years, my opinion has always been that the old Common Inspection framework favoured colleges as too much focus in relation to teaching and learning was centred on lesson plans, schemes of work and compliance related ‘Quality’ rather than what was actually taking place. While I fully support the new standards, surely accountability for part of this trend in Grade 4’s should be accepted by Ofsted and the Government for having, quite frankly, an inadequate inspection framework in the first place. They are now having to ‘raise the standards’ of their own making.