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Colleges go to top of class

Grade one leadership verdict celebrated in Liverpool, Leamington Spa and Darlington. Joe Clancy reports

The leadership and management of three colleges have been graded "outstanding" by inspectors in reports published this month.

Knowsley community college in Liverpool, Warwickshire college in Leamington Spa, and Queen Elizabeth sixth-form college in Darlington have all been awarded the top accolade by the Office for Standards in Education.

The award is particularly significant for Knowsley and Warwickshire. Prior to this month, only one other general further education college had received a grade one for leadership from Ofsted.

Ioan Morgan, principal at Warwickshire, attributed the top-grade reports to colleges taking management more seriously. He believes it is an indication of better reports to come.

"It is unusual for large colleges like ours to get this grade and it is very encouraging that we are getting our act together," he said.

"In the past, colleges tended to select their best teachers for management roles, giving them a little extra time out of the classroom to do the job.

Now we are taking management much more seriously and using a far more professional approach."

He said that the leadership college for the FE sector, the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, will play a significant role in developing management skills in colleges.

"I went through a pilot training programme in 2000 and found it to be a big benefit," he added. "It causes one to reflect on one's own practices and to look at the impact we are having on other people."

Sir George Sweeney, principal at Knowsley, said: "It is unusual for general FE colleges to be judged outstanding by Ofsted. Let's hope we can look forward to more of them getting this recognition for the services we provide.

"We work in quite challenging circumstances and to do so well is an enormous tribute to all the staff and the students. I feel very proud of what the college has achieved."

Warwickshire has just completed its second merger in seven years and is now one of the largest general FE colleges in the UK, with more than 28,000 full- and part-time learners at three main centres at Royal Leamington Spa, Rugby and Moreton Morrell.

The Ofsted report described teaching as "consistently of a good standard".

It said provision is good or better in 12 of the 15 curriculum areas accounting for 96 per cent of the college's provision.

At Knowsley, in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, the quality of provision was examined in 15 curriculum areas. Inspectors judged teaching, learning and attainment to be outstanding in two areas, good in eight, satisfactory in four, and unsatisfactory in one.

The report said: "Shared values of inclusion, raising individual aspirations and supporting students to achieve are fundamental to the college."

Queen Elizabeth in Darlington is the 12th sixth-form college to be rated grade one for leadership and management by Ofsted. Inspectors judged 70 per cent of subjects "outstanding" and the rest were considered "good".

Its principal, David Heaton, said: "This is a wonderful report and is further confirmation that QE is one of the country's leading sixth-form colleges.

"Our success is mainly due to the culture of high expectations within the college and the dedication and commitment of staff."

Chief inspector of schools, David Bell, said: "I offer my congratulations to the staff and students who have made Queen Elizabeth such an exciting place in which to learn.

"The college excels in many subjects across the board from mathematics and ICT to humanities and the performing arts. This is quite an achievement."

Barnfield college in Luton is the only other general FE college to be rated outstanding for leadership. Three tertiary colleges, Alton, Truro and Bridgwater, have also achieved grade one.

One college, however, was slated in a recent Ofsted report. Hadlow in west Kent, which specialises in land-based studies, was judged inadequate by inspectors who found leadership and management "unsatisfactory".

Ofsted said the college has a history of poor achievement which, despite improvements, remains below the national average.

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