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Ailing college hits new low

Newark and Sherwood - already in line for a merger - has come under fire from inspectors. Joe Clancy reports

A struggling college that last year faced the threat of closure has been judged inadequate by inspectors in a report published today.

Leadership and management at Newark and Sherwood college in Nottingham are rated unsatisfactory, as is the quality of teaching and learning in many lessons.

The report is a new blow for the college, about which the Learning and Skills Council has already raised "serious concerns".

The LSC conducted a review of the college and considered proposals for it to merge with one of four others in the West Midlands.

John Gray, Newark's principal, said: "We are a small college, and in a time of strategic area review it is inevitable that the headline judgement of the inspectors could influence our future."

Mr Gray criticised the report by the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate for its overall judgement. He also pointed out that the inspectors looked at eight out of the 13 curriculum areas.

Three were rated unsatisfactory, but he said that these had a "disproportionate influence" on their overall verdict. He cited the example of construction in which musical instrument technology, comprising the largest part of that curriculum area, was rated good, yet the overall grade was unsatisfactory.

A similar rating was given to retailing, but Mr Gray said that this is a very small part of the college's provision, involving a partnership arrangement, in which no lessons were observed.

He added: "The report doesn't contain any huge surprises. The Ofsted findings substantially match the grades and judgements we arrived at in our own self-assessment report. However, we do have reservations about the influence that negative grades in two small areas of our provision had on the overall judgement."

Mr Gray said that the college houses an internationally famous violin-making school and is also well-known for guitar and woodwind instrument-making.

"Many of our ex-students set up in business locally," he said.

Inspectors found that the college does not offer good value for money. The report said: "Arrangements for quality assurance are ineffective. The use of data and targets to improve provision and raise achievement is weak."

The report goes on to describe leadership as unsatisfactory and adds: "The principal, senior managers and governors, supported by managers and staff, have established a clear mission and strategic direction for the college.

"They are successful in providing a range of relevant provision which increases participation in education and is responsive to the needs of students, employers and the local community."

Mick Brown, the LSC's executive director for Nottinghamshire, said: "There have been some discussions about merging the college, but they did not move very far forward. A provider review raised serious concerns about achievement, and we have worked with the college for quite some time. There is a review of post-16 provision in Newark, which we expect to complete in May."

* joe.clancy@tes.co.uk

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