A college on a turnaround journey has had its third consecutive ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted report published, following a visit that came 12 months “too soon” in the view of its principal.
Coventry College received another grade three overall judgement today but saw its grade for apprenticeships drop to a four – meaning the college will now be banned from delivering apprenticeships as FE Week revealed earlier this month.
The college has faced significant financial challenges since it formed through a merger of Henley College Coventry and City College Coventry in 2017, which were so severe the college’s solvency was threatened.
Ofsted’s latest report on the college, which teaches over 5,000 students, said senior leaders have “rightly focused their efforts on securing financial stability for the college” and recognised that they have also “invested considerable time and effort in improving the quality of education”.
However, these efforts have “not yet yielded sufficient improvements,” the report said.
“Quality assurance activities focus too much on compliance and do not improve the experience of the learner or apprentice. They do not place enough emphasis on developing the craft of teaching. As a result, there is too much inconsistency in the quality of teaching across the college.”
The college was also criticised for making a “limited contribution” to meeting skills needs, including failing to sufficiently involve employers in the design of the curriculum.
For apprenticeships specifically, Ofsted said there is a lack of “high-quality teaching”, caused in part by staff recruitment issues, and poor co-ordination of on- and off-the-job training. Many of the college’s 250 apprentices do not receive the training they need to “be successful”, according to the report.
Ofsted did however highlight many positives at Coventry College. Inspectors found that learners “enjoy being part of the college community”, they feel “respected and embrace everyone’s individuality”.
Learners are also “enthusiastic about their learning and are keen to do well” and the majority of those on study programmes are “well prepared for their next stage in education”.
Coventry College’s 2022 accounts show an improved financial position. The college achieved an overall surplus of £1 million compared to a deficit of £4.7 million in 2021, cash balances of £5.8 million, and an ESFA financial health rating of ‘good’. Its financial notice to improve was closed last year.
The turnaround includes the closure and future sale of the college’s Henley campus.
Reacting to today’s report, Coventry College principal Carol Thomas, who was appointed in August 2020, said: “Unfortunately Ofsted came about 12 months too soon for us. Anyone who has been involved in turnaround of this magnitude would know that it takes three to five years to really see the impact of decisions and actions taken and that’s when you have a full leadership team in post.
“If you add in the closing of a college site, the bringing together of two very different college cultures, plus a pandemic enforcing a series of lockdowns, remote learning, centre assessed and teacher assessed grades, followed by learners with no examination experience suddenly thrust into the world of RQF examinations – then it’s safe to say it has been nothing if not a challenge.”
Thomas continued: “The Ofsted report noted progress made from the 2019 inspection, particularly in relation to learner behaviour and attitudes, something that has been a challenge for the whole sector post pandemic, and most noticeably the whole learner experience and culture of the college, but the team are clearly disappointed to have received an inadequate grade for apprenticeships which is only 4 per cent of the college provision but dominates the Ofsted report.
“We have been battling to remove all of the apprenticeship legacy issues, which has been challenging due to the impact of the pandemic, and unfortunately an over reliance on agency staff in STEM areas, which Ofsted quite rightly noted had an impact on the learner experience.
“The college is, however, ambitious for its future and with a stable foundation and a strong team now in place, it can continue to move forward through the next phase of its improvement journey.”
Thomas said her college will ensure apprentices complete their programme successfully.
She told FE Week the FE Commissioner and Education and Skills Funding Agency have praised Coventry College’s turnaround as “one of the best they have ever seen in FE”, while Barclays bank also moved the college out of a formal “exit strategy” – something that “rarely happens in the business world”.
She also pointed out that it has taken two years for the college to establish a new senior leadership team.
Three ‘requires improvement’ grades in a row would automatically have qualified the college for an ‘inadequate’ judgement in the past.
Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman changed this rule when she took over the top job at the inspectorate in January 2017 because she thought it was “flawed conception”.