The first general FE college to achieve an outstanding grade under Ofsted’s tough new inspection regime has been announced.

Walsall College, in the West Midlands, won glowing praise from the education watchdog across its headline fields.

Its success means the college is also the first to get a published Ofsted report with outstanding for teaching and learning — a field that, under the common inspection framework introduced in September, limits the overall grade.

Principal Jatinder Sharma (pictured with college staff, students and governors) said: “We are incredibly proud of this achievement and delighted that Ofsted has recognised the college as one of the best in the country for outstanding teaching and learning, and the impact this has on producing high levels of success.

“This would not have been possible without the dedication shown by all staff and governors at the college in ensuring students are stretched and challenged in their studies, enabling them to fulfil their true potential and successfully progress to university or into employment.

“Over the past few years we have also worked hard to develop strategies to create an inclusive environment that promotes equality and diversity, making it easier for all students to access learning and this was again highly praised by the inspectors.”

The 15,000-learner college, rated as good in 2008, was re-inspected around the middle of last month.

The Ofsted report said it was “rooted in its community and works in very strong partnership with key organisations for the benefit of students and to promote the regeneration and prosperity of the borough”.

The report added: “Teachers set very high standards, have very high expectations and use their vocational skills and expertise to make lessons motivating, interesting and memorable.

“Lessons are well planned, engaging and enable students to make rapid progress and achieve well.

“Leaders, managers and governors have an ambitious vision for the college and its students.”

The report comes around four months after chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s annual report in which he called on the government to “shine a spotlight” on FE.

He pointed out how 13 colleges were graded as inadequate in 2011/12, compared with four the previous year.

And just two colleges achieved outstanding last year — the most recent being Hampshire’s Eastleigh College in July, inspected under the old framework.

The new framework, introduced from September, followed Ofsted’s Good Education For All consultation that ended last May.

It includes a reduced inspection notice period from three weeks to two days and a potential re-inspection of providers ‘requiring improvement’ within 12 to 18 months.

Providers who get the grade twice in a row can be judged inadequate on their third inspection if they haven’t improved.

The first good grading under the new framework went to City College Plymouth after an inspection in October.

And Mr Sharma said he wanted his college to build on its outstanding grade.

“Our aim now is to continue to embed further improvements and ensure more students in the community are able to access the outstanding education and resources available at Walsall to set them on their chosen career paths,” he said.

“Current students and new students looking to join us in September can be confident that they will be studying at a forward-thinking college highly recognised by Ofsted, for not only producing excellent results, but also for making sure students graduate with the qualifications needed to progress to higher education or the skills required in the workplace.”

It is the second outstanding Ofsted rating to have gone to the Black Country town recently, with Walsall Adult and Community College having achieved the grade — as a local authority provider, rather than general FE — in January.


Editorial : So it can be done

Huge congratulations to Walsall College on a stunning double first for a general further education college.

The outstanding result comes in stark contrast to our last front page story, which reported on City of Liverpool College’s grade four.

And all this follows a string of poor results and a less than complimentary annual report from Ofsted.

So beyond the obvious congratulations and reward of recognition, this should come as a welcome relief to other large colleges.

Why? Because it shows that a large college can achieve an outstanding grade with an “assiduous determination to improve the quality of teaching and learning”.

Oh, and under the new Ofsted inspection regime Walsall now has an outstanding college as well as an outstanding local authority provider of adult education.

So in the postcode lottery of quality providers, it seems WS is the place to be.

Nick Linford, editor of FE Week

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