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Barnfield College apologises to students for poor standards

The newly appointed chairman of an FE college judged inadequate by Ofsted has launched an extraordinary attack on the “unacceptable failure” of the previous management team and apologised to students for poor standards.

Robin Somerville said Barnfield College in Luton had “lost its way” since being given an outstanding rating in 2007, and apologised to students.

An Ofsted report published today says that a significant majority of teaching, learning and assessment at the college requires improvement or is inadequate, that teaching and learning in English and maths is poor and that learners make slow progress in lessons as a result of poor planning.

Attendance, punctuality and behaviour are also criticised for being poor.

Barnfield built up a federation of academies and free schools under its former principal Sir Peter Birkett, who was knighted for his services to FE in 2012 but who left the college in July 2013.

The federation became the subject of an investigation by the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency last year, which found it had claimed nearly £1 million in government cash for students it had no record of teaching.

A subsequent investigation by the FE Commissioner, Dr David Collins, recommended at least half the governing body should be replaced.

In a statement today, Mr Somerville said: "The corporation fully accepts all the findings of the Ofsted inspectors. This is an unacceptable failure by a significant majority of the previous management, governors and teaching staff. On behalf of the college, I have apologised to students for that failure.

"What was particularly worrying is the degree to which Ofsted inspectors found that management was overconfident in their assessment of quality, leading governors into a false sense of security.”

The college has announced that it has appointed Tim Eyton-Jones as its new permanent principal.

Mr Eyton-Jones was previously principal of John Ruskin College which was also judged inadequate by Ofsted before he took over and turned it around. Within four years of his arrival it was awarded an outstanding grade and is now heavily oversubscribed.

Mr Somerville said: “The corporation has set as its goal to re-establish Barnfield's previous outstanding provision for learners in Luton and the area. We have every confidence that Tim will succeed in that challenge."  

Mr Eyton-Jones said: "I am going to work tirelessly to transform the teaching and provision offered by the college. There is much to be done to recapture the excellence that Barnfield once knew.

“The college will shortly be seeking inspirational and aspirational colleagues to join a new and refreshed senior management team as part of the college's restructure. We will be implementing a range of robust and established quality improvement models as well as some innovative initiatives to support the turnaround."

Speaking to TES, Sir Peter said he was “saddened” to read the Ofsted report but denied the criticism was aimed at him.

"When I left in July 2013 the college achieved its highest ever results," he said. "The success rate for 16- to 18-year-olds stood at 94 per cent, positioning the college as the number one general FE college in the country, second in the country for 19-plus and second in the country for all ages,"

"The college therefore was well placed to achieve a good or outstanding inspection, all the signs through Ofsted monitoring suggested this would be the case. Financially the college was also very healthy with £17 million reserves."

Related stories

Barnfield College claimed for £1m-worth of students it did not have on record, according to investigation - February 2014

Ofsted: training providers outperforming colleges in inspections, figures suggest - November 2014

Ofsted figures show improvement in FE performance - September 2014

On your bike, Ofsted: we don’t need you here - December 2014

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