Specialist arts college strikes the right chord with Ofsted ‘outstanding’

Inspectors said the college empowers young adults with special needs to progress into the world of work

Inspectors said the college empowers young adults with special needs to progress into the world of work

11 Jun 2024, 16:31

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A specialist arts college for learners with special educational needs and disabilities that was founded by musician Sir Richard Stilgoe has been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Orpheus Centre trains and supports about 60 people aged 18 to 25 with conditions such as Down Syndrome, autism and communication needs to live “independent and fulfilling lives” through an arts-focused curriculum.

In a grade one report published today, inspectors said the college has a “highly ambitious” project-based curriculum of training in arts, creativity, and enterprise alongside personal development.

Ofsted raised the centre’s overall effectiveness rating from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ for the first time, noting the quality of teaching and progress learners make.

“Learners develop, practise and master creative, technical and academic skills successfully to prepare them for their future working lives,” inspectors said.

They added that from the start of their time at the centre, learners “thrive due to the exceptionally well-planned and implemented transition activities that prepare them well to move from school to college”.

Orpheus principal Chloe Smith said: “This recognition is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the staff, students, supporters and our entire college community.

“Our mission has always been to empower the students to achieve their full potential, and this outstanding rating confirms that we are succeeding in our goals.”

A key focus of the centre – which boasts a theatre, art studio, sensory room and recording studio – is to ready learners for their “future working lives”.

Activities to help them do this include staged performances, exposure to associated roles such as catering and administration, gaining qualifications and careers guidance.

Outstanding progress

Inspectors praised the “outstanding progress” learners make through tailored activities that incorporate core skills such as English, maths and employability.

They also praised leaders and trustees for their ongoing quality evaluation and challenge from “exceptionally experienced and specialist trustees”.

The Orpheus Centre, which is run by a charity, was founded in 1997 by songwriter and musician Sir Richard Stilgoe.

Stilgoe is best known for his work on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals Cats, Starlight Express and Phantom of the Opera.

Based at his former family home, the centre has 21 purpose-built flats for learners to live on site.

The centre’s new rating marks a significant improvement for the centre since Ofsted rated it ‘requires improvements’ in 2016 and 2014, and ‘inadequate’ in 2007.

A spokesperson for the college told FE Week it has worked to achieve disability confident leader status and about a third of its staff are disabled.

Chief executive Rachel Black said: “With these brilliant young people, we are working to influence society to remove the obstacles in their paths so that they can plan for a brighter future.

“We want to grow to welcome even more learning disabled students in the future and rise to the challenge of welcoming more diverse cohorts in the years to come.”

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