Third poor inspection for City College Coventry’s Paul Taylor

The principal of the latest big city college to be labelled inadequate by Ofsted has told of his determination to stay on and “put things right”.

After 16 years in the job and two previous poor inspections, Paul Taylor, at City College Coventry, was hit with the grade four result across each inspection headline field.

The 8,000-learner college was also given grade fours throughout the main findings board, including apprenticeships and 19+ learning programmes.

It got grade three overall results at previous inspections in March 2010 and May 2007, but its highest mark this time was a single grade two for teaching, learning and assessment on independent living and life skills.

“I’ve thought long and hard about what’s happened,” said Mr Taylor (pictured).

“I’ve thought: ‘Shall I go?’. But I couldn’t leave the college with those grades. If I walk away I’ll regret it forever.

“I’m very confident we will put things right. At the end of the day we have to accept where we are and face up to it.”

City College Coventry is the third big city college to have been given a grade four in recent weeks.

Last month, City of Liverpool College got grade fours in every headline inspection field, four years after it was praised as outstanding.

And, more recently, City of Bristol College fell from good to inadequate, with grade fours in all but leadership and management, where it was seen to be in need of improvement.

If I walk away I’ll regret it forever.”

Coventry’s Ofsted report, published on April 23 following inspection in March, was critical of below average achievement, low course completion, poor attendance and punctuality.

It said: “Quality assurance systems are ineffective. They have failed to prevent the decline in success rates and have not brought about the necessary improvements across the college, particularly in teaching, learning and assessment.”

It added: “Leadership and management throughout the college are not effective in bringing about sustained improvement in all areas.”

But Mr Taylor said the inspectors’ final grading was “unexpected” because self-assessment indicated the college would get a grade three overall — and a grade two for teaching, learning and assessment.

“Where we got it really wrong was on teaching, learning and assessment. Our own assessment regime was telling us they were good, so it was quite a severe drop,” he said.

“We assessed standards wrongly because we weren’t focusing enough on the learning aspect.”

However, Mr Taylor said he was implementing changes to improve the college, which, according to agency figures, had a turnover of £20.3m for the year ending July 31, 2011.

One change, a new system to monitor attendance and trigger action to deal with students who did not turn up, was not in place in time for the inspection.  Staff training would also be assessed and addressed, “before the end of June with a view to a clean start in September”, he said.

Mr Taylor added: “Generally we need to tidy up on all our systems and become more consistent and focused. But we don’t just want to implement an action plan — we want to put in place a significant culture change.”

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Editorial: Misplaced sentiment

City College Coventry is not the first college to receive a grade four inspection result from Ofsted recently, nor will it be the last.

However, three things make this outcome stand out from the seemingly growing crowd.

Firstly, this was no average grade four. All 16 outcomes in the record of main findings were inadequate.

Secondly, and unlike other overall grade four results, this was not an exceptional result.

The college had already had two poor inspection results.

Thirdly, current principal Paul Taylor has been at the helm for 16 years and during all of those inspections.

So the defence of being new in post is not available for him, unlike principals at other grade four colleges.

But Mr Taylor is staying put because if he walks away he’ll “regret it forever”.

It’s an honourable sentiment, but a misplaced one.

What about the tens of thousands of people in Coventry who over the years, according to Ofsted, have received a less than good educational experience?

Bearing in mind Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments about no consequences for failure at FE colleges, and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock’s plans for an axe-wielding FE Commissioner, this latest blow should be seen as a watershed moment for the sector.

What is to be the consequence of what appears repeated failure in leadership at City College Coventry?

Nick Linford, FE Week editor



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12 Comments

  1. Nick’s right, the people of Coventry should have better. This is massive leadership, governance and market failure all in one. If the governors do not take action even after this then the SFA / BIS must intervene and remove the lot of them .

  2. Principal Paul Taylor

    I would like to make a few true comments in relation to this.

    City College was formed as a financial and quality rescue attempt of Coventry Technical College which had appalling bad financial performance, losing in the region of 30% of its turnover and, as an example its pre-merger long success rate was 49%. This impacted on the overall performance of the merged City College, achieving 65% and then to 77% in 2010, when Ofsted graded us as satisfactory, but we were on the cusp of being good with 2s for Capacity to Improve, Quality of Provision and in two of the 4 curriculum areas. In the meantime, we had successfully managed a complex £60m relocation and rebuild which was cited as the “good news story” in Sir Andrew Foster’s review of the LSC capital funding debacle. The College’s SFA financial rating had become “outstanding” which I would suggest is a big achievement given where we started from.

    The article portrays me as being “defiant”. I am not being stubborn in staying on; rather the Corporation decided to assume a corporate responsibility for the poor outcome and have taken the pragmatic view that things need sorting out very quickly and that in order to do this, I and the rest of Executive should stay in place to develop and to have implemented an action plan by the beginning of July to set the place up for September. This is what we are doing and we have made very good progress. Indeed, some key issues were already being resolved prior to inspection in relation to personnel, structures and systems. The Governance and Management team recognise the immediate challenges and are confident of significant improvement.

    My future is not in my hands; we have the first formal Post Inspection Action Plan monitoring meeting scheduled with the SFA in mid-May. Otherwise, we expect intervention from the new Commissioner with whatever consequences that might bring.

    To repeat, I am not being stubborn or unrealistic about my future prospects of remaining Principal of City College; I am doing what the Corporation has asked. I am doing it and will continue to do so as professionally as I possibly can and for as long as I am required. This will be of comfort to me when my career as Principal is over.

  3. I worked there for many years. Most of the staff work very, very hard and try their best to help young people who often have chaotic lives and poor literacy and numeracy skills. Many adult learners also turn their lives around with courses on offer there. My support and sympathy goes out to the teachers at the ‘coal face’ in the college. I know the pressures they will have under prior to inspections and my guess now is that it’s probably unbearable.

    • John Germain

      Mmm previous post has been removed. Why? The point I made was that there have been a number of cases where failed principals moved into lucrative posts within the sector. No names mentioned this time. But the same considerations do not apply to rank and file teachers whose jobs are lost as a result fo executive failure.

  4. As a past Governor at the college I have to say that the whole sad & sorry story comes as no great surprise to me. I resigned from the governing body some years ago purely & simply because there was in my view an autocratic leadership style which was not fit for purpose. I saw my role as being very much someone from outside the sector who could bring challenge & sound business principles to the organisation. Unfortunately it was fairly much the case that in an ever changing world the organisation delivered fiundamentally what it believed it could deliver which was not the same as what the people of Coventry necessarily wanted or needed. Too much effort was misplaced in seeking partnerships which failed & in partnerships which conflicted with its own work rather than complementing it.Good staff were allowed to leave in several rounds of redundancies whilst less effective lecturers remained.For an organisation to change it must actually want to change & despite this the autocratic style of leadership chose to carry on doing the same and as anyone knows ” if you always do what you have always done then you will always get what you always got”. As an employer in the city I am wholly disappointed with the adverse outcome but moreso that those at the top of the organisation still have the remarkable arrogance to think that they are in fact the right people to bring about a short timescale change when they could not achieve this on an ongoing basis as required over many years.This is not just aimed at the paid executive in the college but at the senior membership of the governing body who have served too long and cannot have the current skills to take the college forward.It is a travesty that some of the blame rests with lecturers who are clearly not being led in an effective manner and the students whose education is suffering & will continue to do so under the current regime.

  5. Bryan Davis

    Isn’t this an example of the FE disease? Having worked in FE at a senior level for a number of years after a career in the military there seems to be a wide spread and institutional inability to accept failure. This denial normally portrays even the inadequate as “fantastic” or “wonderful” – that is until OfSTED find that it isn’t – then all of the excuses come out as to “why it’s not my fault guv”.
    The problem is that there is a cultural inability to identify, accept and address poor performance at an institutional level until OfSTED rub our noses in it. Another characteristic of the FE disease is the propensity to hide behind statistics that apparently show they are doing a good job.
    Let’s not beat about the bush – this college has failed! The leadership has failed, the management team has failed!
    They have all failed irrespective of how wonderful and hard working the teachers are, or any the statistics showing they are “doing a good job”.
    I’m stunned that they are still in post. No well led organisation should tolerate this level of failure be they public or private sector. To try and solve this college’s problems using “more of the same” is destined for spectacular failure and large consultancy bills.
    When is the sector going to wake up and cure itself of this disease?

  6. Clearly, we can agree that FE colleges are not doing their job; the multiple failed Ofsted inspections attest to that. But what’s the solution? A change of management? It seems that the problem is a lack of awareness of local employment needs, not necessarily who the principal is.

    • The point is well made but the executive & Governors have over many years ignored not only employer needs but student needs.The issue of employer engagementwas discussed time and again at both full governors & sub committee meetings when these people simply had not a clue, only the same old strategies which had failed previously.This was coupled with the arrogance of believing under self assessment that they were doing a good job.If everyone buries their head on this then we may as well bury the college now. The buck stops fairly and squarely at the top & the only people who cannot see that are those who are probably in similar roles and looking at protecting themselves. City College needs a new executive & non executive leadership now & there should be no bankers bonuses for those who have failed. ( sadly the rewards based on length of service will be substantial)

  7. Can I just say that I went to City College Coventry, I was in the last intake of students at the old college in Earlsdon, and moved to the Swanswell site in the January. I found the college to be a brilliant place, because not only were students given the opportunity to pass, they were given the opportunity to fail. In many other schools and colleges around the country, the way of keeping such a high pass rate up is to cut off all students who either will not pass, or may not pass. City College Coventry gave everyone a chance, something that everyone deserves. Fair play to Paul Taylor for coming on here to defend himself against the accusations thrown about in the press.