A troubled adult residential college that was forced into a last-minute merger with a university last year is set to be hit with an ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted, FE Week can reveal.
Ruskin College will be downgraded from ‘good’ in a report due to be published next week by the education watchdog.
FE Week understands leadership and management will bring the college’s grade tumbling down after inspectors found poor safeguarding processes, including incomplete disclosure and barring service checks on staff.
It will become the only “institute for adult learning” – as classified by Ofsted – to hold the lowest possible grade.
The Oxford-based college, originally founded in 1899, focuses on adult learners and its offer includes Access to HE diplomas, English for speakers of other languages courses, and trade union courses accredited by the TUC.
It has historic links to Oxford University and is renowned for educating working-class people, especially those in the trade union movement.
Ruskin College has gone through a period of turmoil in recent years. It has been subject to a financial notice to improve from the Department for Education since 2014.
The notice was reissued in November 2020 and the Department for Education placed the college in supervised status following a report by then-FE Commissioner Richard Atkins, published in October, which said the provider faced an “uncertain future”.
This was due to the “serious deterioration of its finances” cause by a sharp decline in higher education enrolments alongside a “substantial overclaiming” of adult education and bursary funding due to the misapplication of funding rules and poor record keeping.
The DfE’s Education and Skills Funding Agency clawed back more than £5 million, an issue which led to the firing of former principal Paul Di Felice, and was told to find a strong merger partner to secure its future.
The college was set to merge with Activate Learning, but switched to the University of West London (UWL) at the eleventh hour, joining in August 2021. UWL minutes from October 2021 stated how Ruskin College had been “poorly managed, and governance had been non-existent which had demoralised staff”.
There had been “no management and board accountability. Student recruitment had collapsed and so the college had presented as a clean sheet,” the minutes added.
UWL was unable to comment on Ofsted’s upcoming report ahead of its publication.
FE Week understands that the watchdog’s report will grade the college as ‘good’ in other areas apart from leadership and management.
Sources close to Ruskin College have also said the college received a recent visit from current FE Commissioner Shelagh Legrave, who said “the University of West London makes an excellent partner for Ruskin” and has “a clear educational vision for the college underpinned by strong finances and the capacity to invest”.
She went on to say that UWL has “made significant progress in addressing the unviable operating model you inherited” and concludes that “my team and I are very impressed with the way the University has implemented the acquisition of Ruskin College and the sound foundations you have laid to achieve your vision for the future of this treasured institution”, sources added.
It is also understood that the ESFA has given Ruskin College’s financial plan an assessment grade of ‘outstanding’ for 2021/22 and 2022/23.