When it was visited by inspectors from the then Further Education Funding Council, Manchester College of Arts and Technology (MANCAT) was running a pound;2 million deficit and suffering from poor governance. But, an inspection carried out over two weeks this April, praised the college for its excellent management and teaching standards.
"Leadership and management are good, and have improved since the last inspection," says the Office for Standards in Education report, published this month. "The staff and governors pursue the college's mission and strategic objectives with clarity and vigour." The college "now has satisfactory financial reserves and achieves good value for money. Staff are effectively and efficiently deployed".
Peter Tavernor, principal of MANCAT, ascribes the college's success to an action plan implemented in 1997. By 1999, after a series of severe - and at times controversial - staff cutbacks, the college had hauled itself out of the red. Since 1999, its budget has been in surplus: it has completed pound;22m of building work, and will start a pound;10m building project in the next two years. It has also recently been awarded status as a centre of excellence in construction.
"We've seen growth, we have strong finances, we have very good staff morale," said Mr Tavernor. "There's a lot to recommend the college now. I'm bragging, because it's been damn hard work. But it's down not just to me, but to a very focused management staff and management culture that focuses on the learner. To see our results published is a good feeling for everybody."
The inspection report is not, however, entirely uncritical: areas singled out for improvement include examination pass rates, students' attendance and the sharing of good practice. But Mr Tavernor said that he welcomed such constructive criticism.
"We've not completed the task yet," he said. "We feel the level of criticism was fair - if you can recognise that, then it's useful to you."
Anthony Goldstone, chair of the Greater Manchester branch of the Learning and Skills Council, congratulated MANCAT on its positive feedback.
"It is very encouraging that MANCAT has been identified for outstanding performance," he said.
"Young people, adult learners and local employers will be pleased that their local colleges are offering high-quality learning opportunities. This bodes well for the future skills needs of Greater Manchester."