London college controversially hit with Ofsted ‘inadequate’ over ‘inappropriate behaviour’

Ofsted inspectors report 'homophobic language' and uncomfortable learners at Croydon College

Ofsted inspectors report 'homophobic language' and uncomfortable learners at Croydon College

19 May 2023, 13:10

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London’s Croydon College has become the first general FE college branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in seven years, after a “significant minority” of students reported instances of homophobic language and “taunting” behaviour.

But the college’s leaders, who secured positive feedback and judgements in other areas, have hit back saying they are “extremely surprised and disappointed” at the overall grading which “does not fairly reflect what inspectors experienced during their visit and the evidence we provided”.

Ofsted downgraded Croydon College to the lowest possible judgement from a previous ‘good’ grade in a report published today following a visit in February.

It makes the college the first general FE college to be given the bottom rating under Ofsted’s education inspection framework since it launched in 2019.

The mixed report issued ‘inadequate’ judgements for behaviours and attitudes and leadership and management, gave ‘requires improvement’ ratings for the quality of education, personal development, education programmes for young people and high needs provision, while apprenticeships and adult learning programmes were judged as ‘good’.

The college confirmed it had challenged several aspects of the report, including submitting additional evidence, but said it was very disappointed the complaint was not upheld.

Inspectors said that “a significant proportion of learners who inspectors spoke with do not feel comfortable at college,” particularly in social and communal spaces.

The report continued that “a significant minority of learners told inspectors they experience homophobic language and taunting and at Coulsdon, female learners do not feel comfortable in areas such as the student common room”.

Despite the discomfort of learners, Ofsted inspectors regarded safeguarding arrangements as “effective”. FE Week has asked Ofsted to clarify its position on safeguarding when learners themselves told inspectors they were not comfortable.

Attendance for young learners was deemed too low, with leaders not setting high enough expectations of young learners’ attendance and behaviour, inspectors said.

Croydon College merged with Coulsdon Sixth Form College in March 2019, but inspectors noted that there was “considerable variation” in the quality of teaching across the two colleges.

Croydon was characterised as a “positive experience” while at Coulsdon too many learners had a poor experience which resulted in a low proportion of students achieving qualifications.

It said that the quality of education at Coulsdon had declined in the last three years, with tutors failing to prepare learners well enough for vocational exams there.

The report also noted the challenges the college had faced that had included staff recruitment problems, the aftermath of a flood, and the issues from Covid-19, but explained that leaders and governors had not been rapid enough in improving the quality of provision and attendance.

Concerns were also raised on the curriculum for personal development, as tutorial lessons were often used as a coursework catch-up opportunity that left learners with “limited” knowledge and skills on making safe and informed decisions on relationships or understanding the dangers of extremism.

A joint statement from the college’s principal, Caireen Mitchell, and the chair of governors, Tony Stevenson, said they were “extremely surprised and disappointed” at the grading.

“While we acknowledge there are improvements to be made at both colleges, we feel strongly that the grade given does not fairly reflect what inspectors experienced during their visit and the evidence we provided,” they said.

“The very mixed profile of the inspection report, with two significant areas rated as ‘good’ and many positive comments about the quality of education and outcomes for all learners, does not align with the final grading delivered. Ofsted’s concerns about the behaviours of a small number of learners are not behaviours we recognise on a day-to-day basis at our colleges. We raised our concerns directly with Ofsted and provided more evidence to address the areas highlighted.”

The college said an improvement plan was already in place and had already been delivering improved attendance, with further improvements expected to be demonstrated to inspectors in a monitoring visit in six months’ time.

Despite inspectors’ concerns, the report also said that adult learners had a positive learning environment featuring “well-planned and taught courses”.

Apprentices also enjoyed a curriculum that enabled them to develop “highly relevant” skills and behaviours for their chosen industries.

On meeting local skills needs, the report said the curriculum is aligned effectively to priority sectors in London, including construction, health and social care and digital, leading to a “reasonable contribution” judgement.

It also found that leaders had a “clear rationale” for the subjects taught and progression pathways offered.

There were 2,585 young learners – around two thirds of whom studied at Croydon with a third at Coulsdon – as well as 2,620 adult learners, 217 apprentices and 200 students with high needs at the college.

Both Croydon and Coulsdon had received ‘good’ ratings during short inspections early in 2018.

The last time a general FE college had a grade four rating was Hereward College in 2016.

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  1. Anne Walker

    From what I understand, the Principal is attributing the Coulsdon Campus of Croydon College for many of the criticisms highlighted in the Ofsted report. In March 2019 there was a ‘merger’ between Coulsdon and Croydon colleges which, like many so-called FE mergers, was a euphemism for a takeover. The expectation being that the strong college will pull up the weak one. A lot of the Coulsdon staff resented this shotgun marriage and, somewhat regrettably, behaved accordingly. It didn’t help that Coulsdon was about £500K in the red at merger which was an issue that needed urgent attention for obvious reasons. A rushed reorganisation of student services to cut costs resulted in a marked decline in quality, which subsequent remedial action, in the form of mini-reorganisations and tinkering, failed to properly address. In fact, if anything it made matters a lot worse by causing more disruption. Importing cheaper and arguably less able staff exacerbated the situation. Many long serving and genuinely talented managers & senior staff at Coulsdon either voluntarily resigned or were ‘otherwise displaced’. My lawyers helped me with that one.

    It didn’t help that several of the better (and pre-merger) staff still left at Coulsdon felt they were being remotely and blindly managed by the senior team at Croydon who didn’t fully understand the local issues that needed addressing. At one point, Coulsdon College was relegated to being the equivalent of a single school (department) of the Croydon College group, which must have been particularly galling. Coulsdon got through three puppet principals in three years who were all given a lot of responsibility and high expectations but little or no executive power. Coulsdon was seen as a burden on resources and a liability rather than an asset. Some Croydon-based senior staff were sent to “sort out the Coulsdon problem” in the lead up to the inspection but it was too little too late.

    Even Croydon campus itself is not a particularly happy ship and is haemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate. A lot of these staff are/were managers at various levels (leaders, coordinators, directors, VPs, heads etc.) and long serving experienced non-managerial staff. It’s not all down to low salaries and high workload, which is standard for the sector. Nepotism and ascribing blame appear to be rife in all areas at all levels, and several staff have just had enough and given up. In some cases, individuals have been hurriedly ‘performance managed’ out of the job if they challenge any of the – shall we say – more crackpot initiatives that have been desperately dreamt up by their superiors. It’s a shame to see both colleges/campuses in this state because it doesn’t have to be this way.

  2. This comes as no surprise – since the change in leadership there has been a high turnover of staff with many ‘performance managed’ out at speed and then subsequent ‘settlement’ payments and NDAs to avoid unfair dismissal tribunals.

    Academic attainment for students has been a lesser priority than financial performance with expensive short term ‘consultants’ being used in place of well trained engaged staff.

    Going back through Board minutes and papers many of the points highlighted in the report are entirely factual.