Three colleges that have faced significant leadership and financial challenges in recent years had full inspections from Ofsted in February and saw their reports published this week. FE Week spoke to the leader of each college to find out how they got on:
Inspection came ‘too soon’ for Hull College
The interim boss of Hull College has said Ofsted’s visit came “too soon” after going through multiple leadership changes since the college’s last grade three report in 2019.
Numerous scandals have engulfed the college, which resulted in formal government intervention and seven acting principals over the past two and a half years.
Ofsted inspected the college again in February and gave them a second consecutive overall ‘requires improvement’ rating.
However, the report rates three out of four of the college’s provision types – courses for apprentices, adult learners and learners with high needs – as ‘good’.
The area where the college continues to struggle is its teaching for 16- to 18-yearolds. Lowell Williams is in the final days of his second stint as interim chief of the college.
He’ll hand the reins to Debra Gray, who is moving from The Grimsby Institute (now known as the TEC Partnership), next week.
Reacting to the report, Williams said the new leadership could have done with more time and called on Ofsted to be more aware of individual college circumstances when deciding when to inspect.
“We weren’t expecting an inspection so soon. I’m not sure it’s helpful or represents good value for the public,” he told FE Week.
“In the period between that last inspection in 2019 and now there have been seven people who have acted as the principal of the college, if you count me twice. And there has been a pandemic in between, where the college has effectively closed, really.”
Williams pressed that the latest new senior team has only been in place for eight months.
“So, the college’s journey to recovery, after the instability in leadership, and after the pandemic, started in August 2021.
“Quite what the value is in inspecting the college in March 2022 I’m not sure. That said, ironically, it does show that the college is making huge progress and making huge progress quickly, because three out of four the provision types were good.”
He added: “I think it would have been better served all round to have had a full academic year. It’s very, very difficult to really improve the provision for young people on full-time study programmes unless you’ve been through a whole academic cycle.”
Williams called on Ofsted to work more collaboratively with the FE Commissioner’s team and the Education and Skills Funding Agency where there are exceptional circumstances for colleges.
In its report, Ofsted acknowledged that the college’s senior leadership team have undergone a “sustained period of instability”.
Williams said the staff at Hull College have been “desperately let down by leadership over time” and it’s their stewardship of the college that has “meant there was still a college there to recover”.
He added: “I’d like to pay tribute to all the staff for their resilience and stewardship of the college during the period of instability. Finally, the college is looking forward to the future with confidence.”
Delayed city-wide review thwarting progress at Southampton City College
The FE Commissioner’s failure to resolve questions on a college’s financial position has slowed leaders’ progress in improving its quality of education, according to Ofsted.
Southampton City College’s latest inspection resulted in another ‘requires improvement’ judgment overall. This follows a previous grade three report back in 2018.
The college is currently surviving on emergency money from the Education and Skills Funding Agency which is due to run out by February 2023.
The FE Commissioner is working on a city-wide review of Southampton’s FE provision which aims to ensure the positive long-term future of the college.
However, the college’s principal Sarah Stannard has said the review has taken up much of the college leadership’s time and limited their ability to make “rapid improvements” to tackle ongoing quality issues – something noted in the Ofsted report.
“We note the inspectors’ judgment that the failure of external decision-makers to resolve questions on the college’s financial position and post-16 education in Southampton has taken up much of the college leadership’s time and has limited our ability to make rapid improvements,” she said.
“This is very frustrating for all at City College. Staff and students have been made to wait too long for a clear way forward.” Stannard said a clear solution “with a real date” was needed to help college leaders’ work on improving the quality of education.
“Much leadership time has necessarily been devoted to negotiations with, and representations to, external bodies,” the Ofsted report said.
“This has slowed progress in other aspects of college improvement. Over the past six years, public debate about the college’s future has also had a negative impact on staff morale.”
Inspectors said that as a result, leaders’ efforts to provide high-quality vocational training for students aged 16 to 18 have only been partly successful.
Other findings of the report were that senior leaders do not check the quality of education closely enough.
“Consequently, they have not identified many of the weaknesses that inspectors found during the inspection and have not moved swiftly to put in place effective methods to deal with those that they have identified,” inspectors said.
Cornwall College bounces back to ‘good’
The chief executive of Cornwall College has said he is “delighted” after a recent Ofsted inspection found senior leaders and governors have “transformed the culture at the college”.
Ofsted rated the college ‘good’ – a jump up from a ‘requires improvement’ rating they received in 2019. The college has had its fair share of financial issues, which resulted in a £30 million bailout from government and a controversial campus sale.
The FE Commissioner later suggested the college should merge with Truro and Penwith College, but it was later decided that both colleges should remain standalone.
Cornwall College’s fortunes have now turned around, with Ofsted finding that governors, senior leaders and managers have worked “relentlessly to establish the college as an influential partner in the region”.
“Myself, governors and staff are highly delighted with the result, which is the accumulation of an immense effort from everybody which all comes down to putting the learner at the centre of all your decisions,” chief executive of Cornwall College John Evans, who took over in 2019, told FE Week.
Evans, who is a former Ofsted inspector, said the college has always had some “brilliant niche provision” and lauded the efforts of staff for the latest Ofsted result.
Ofsted’s report was largely positive, with inspectors saying that leaders focus consistently on learners and their learning and wellbeing.
“They place a high priority on the importance of good teaching. Leaders have communicated this message to staff, who share the same high expectations for learners,” they said.
Evans told FE Week that leaders focused an “immense effort” on improving the quality of teaching learning assessment and the learner experience.
“The college did many things well, but not consistently. And it was pulling together effectively ten campuses and driving the culture of everybody having an uncompromising ambition for their learners,” he added.