College told to urgently improve leadership

Easton and Otley College needs to invest in expertise to bring about rapid quality improvement, says FE commissioner

commissioner FE future college finance milton

A college judged inadequate in two Ofsted inspections has been told to urgently strengthen its senior management team by the FE commissioner and the skills minister. Easton and Otley College has also been placed in administered college status by skills minister Anne Milton. 

A report by FE commissioner Richard Atkins on the college, published today, finds that “expectations of a significant improvement in student outcomes” had “not materialised and in fact achievement rates show no improvement”. “Alongside this, lesson observations confirm there is still too much poor teaching,” according to the report.

It also highlights that despite an extensive staff restructuring programme, the college has posted an operating deficit in 2017-18 with the prospect of another substantial operating loss in 2018-19. “The college’s core operating performance remains a concern and raises fundamental questions about its long-term financial sustainability”.  

This was one of three FE commissioner reports published today, alongside others for John Ruskin College and North Hertfordshire College.

'Relentless focus'

“Governors need to relentlessly focus on rapidly improving the learner experience including teaching, learning and assessment and monitoring of student progress and achievements in order to avoid a third consecutive inadequate judgement by Ofsted," says the commissioner. 

He stresses leadership at the college urgently needs strengthening in order to increase the pace of improvements in teaching, learning and assessment and student outcomes. “In the short term the college will need to invest in additional expertise to bring about rapid quality improvement and to balance carefully the need for further efficiency savings with the potentially adverse impact on learners.

"Governors need to be more robust and objective in setting clear, realistic and measurable performance targets for the senior team and to rigorously hold them to account for performance improvement.”

Overall effectiveness inadequate

Easton and Otley College was initially issued with a notice of concern by the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), following a May 2017 inspection, where Ofsted judged overall effectiveness to be inadequate. The college was subsequently referred to the FE Commissioner (FEC) for formal intervention in the light of that judgement.

After an initial visit by the commissioner in July 2017, the chair of the board resigned and was replaced with a new chair, the principal resigned and was replaced with an interim principal and additional external expertise was commissioned to work with all college staff.

An intervention report published in September 2017 recommended a range of actions, but a stocktake visit in February 2018 showed little progress.

Financial health

According to today’s report, “by this time the college had been issued a financial notice to improve by ESFA because of an inadequate financial health grade for 2016-17”.  

A further stocktake took place in July 2018, where increasing concerns about the college’s long-term sustainability resulted in a recommendation for enhanced monitoring and review by the ESFA and the commissioner, and for the corporation to consider proceeding with a Structure and Prospects Appraisal (SPA).

In October 2018, a further Ofsted inspection found the college overall inadequate again. 

Administered status

In a letter to the college, skills minister Anne Milton said the commissioner’s visit followed “a second consecutive inadequate Ofsted inspection in October 2018”. “It is clear from the commissioner’s report that leadership at the college urgently needs strengthening in order to increase the pace of improvements in teaching, learning and assessment and student outcomes.”

She adds: “Given the significant challenges now facing the college, I am placing the college in administered college status with immediate effect. The commissioner, his team and the ESFA will engage regularly with the college to monitor progress, and to ensure the right leadership and governance capability is in place to secure recovery.”

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