From FE Week by Nick Summers

Stafford and Franklin College challenge Ofsted

Two colleges in the FE sector are considering appeals after receiving ‘inadequate’ or ‘satisfactory’ inspection grades from Ofsted.

Stafford College, which received a grade four at the end of last month, has confirmed it will be submitting an appeal because of “crucial factual errors” in its inspection report.

Steve Willis, principal of the college, has also said the informal feedback from inspectors gave a “misleading picture of the quality of work that takes place at this college”.

A statement issued by the college said the poor inspection grade can be attributed to a measure of student performance called ‘Outcomes for Learners’ that, under new weighting, has forced its teaching, management and value for money to be downgraded.

The inspection report, which follows a “good” grade two rating in 2009, said lessons at Stafford College are “uninspiring” and fail to challenge learners.

“Teachers know their subjects well but the quality of lessons across the college varies too much,” the report said.

We decided to be entirely rigorous and transparent in our data collection, adhering to national guidelines. Once that happened, a poor inspection outcome was inevitable.”

“Inspectors found good teaching and learning in over half the lessons observed but too much (of) that was satisfactory and did not challenge learners enough to reach their full potential.”

It later said the college’s success rates have declined and are particularly low for learners on advanced courses.

The statement from the college, however, refers to a report by Tenon Education Training and Skills Limited, which was written on behalf of a secret group of colleges.

The report, seen by FE Week, suggests “widespread” methods artificially inflate success rate data and inspection grades.

Mr Willis says: “There are many ways in which we could have reported entirely different levels of student success.

“We decided to be entirely rigorous and transparent in our data collection, adhering to national guidelines.

“Colleges are under enormous pressure to find creative ways to measure their success rates and we knew that our own approach could lead to us falling below the national average.

“Once that happened, a poor inspection outcome was inevitable.”

Franklin College, which also received an ‘inadequate’ grade from Ofsted in May, said it too is considering an appeal.

The sixth form college in Grimsby, which received a ‘good’ rating in 2008, has been criticised for “not driving improvements with urgency”.

Inspectors said that the leadership and management of the college requires improvement, and that strategic priorities need to be communicated more effectively to staff.

They also say that the success rates for students on AS level courses is “consistently and significantly” below the national average.

“Since the last inspection there has been no trend of improvement in poor success rates in AS level and on intermediate courses.”

Using new pilot inspection guidelines, Ofsted said that too many courses at the college have poor retention rates, although they admit that in the current year “retention rates have improved”.

Barnfield College, which has fallen from “outstanding” to “satisfactory”, said it had decided not to appeal an Ofsted report that said a significant number of lessons did not challenge students and were unclear about what they should be learning.

It later said the college is “over-generous” when judging its own performance, and also has declining success rates for students on long courses.

Pete Birkett, Chief Executive of the Barnfield Federation said: “The college takes all audits very seriously and uses them to raise our game, which we are doing so.”

An Ofsted spokesperson told FE Week it did not comment on individual inspections “over and above the published reports”.

When questioned about the appeals, the spokesperson added: “Ofsted does not comment on whether a complaint or concerns have been received about individual providers.”


Paul Champion

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