POORLY performing colleges face governing bodies appointed directly by the Government if they fail to shine under the tough new inspection regime.
The zero-tolerance approach to poor performance was laid down by Margaret Hodge, lifelong learning and higher education minister, at the publication of the first three reports under the new joint inspection regime of the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.
"We will invest in success but we will not prop up failure," she said, describing Redbridge, one of the first to be inspected, as a college which would be labelled as being in "special measures" if it were a school.
A new governing body could be in store for Redbridge, which was given the worst grading of the first three colleges to be visited under the new regime.
Provision at Redbridge is described as being of "inadequate quality" and it has two months to address its weaknesses before it is reinspected.
Other measures that could be taken include bringing in another college to carry out quality-improvement, merger, or withdrawing funding from specific courses.
Redbridge's report added that leadership and management are "unsatisfactory" and highlighted the fact that "average attendance at governors' meetings in the year before inspection was 63 per cent, which is well below the target of 80 per cent that they have set for themselves".
Quality of provision was judged to be grade four, or "less than satisfactory", in half of its curriculum areas. Teaching was less than satisfactory in 24 per cent of the sessions observed.
Teesside Tertiary College in Middlesbrough suffers from "unsatisfactory" leadership and management, but a "satisfactory" education of its students, says the document.
"There are inadequate links between operational and strategic planning, and operational plans lack measurable targets," says the report.
Contrastingly, A-level performance is good when taking ability levels into account and pass rates at foundation and intermediate level are above the average compared with other similar colleges.
Brooklands College in Surrey was judged "satisfactory" in both education and leadership and management, with all curriculum areas judged at least "satisfactory" and four out of 13 curriculum areas being "good".
While hesitant to avoid drawing too many conclusions about the whole sector from so few inspections, OFSTED is clearly concerned that the weaknesses it has uncovered are not untypical.
"It must be a matter of concern that we have already identified inadequate management and leadership in two colleges and inadequate curriculum provision in one," said Mike Tomlinson, OFSTED's chief inspector.
"These reports will send a clear message that the inspections we shall be conducting will be rigorous and searching."
The Association of Colleges says colleges should be given more information in advance about the inspection criteria to enable them to "swing their quality assurance and available resources round" to what is expected under the new regime.
"Colleges have a right to know in advance exactly what they are being judged against, and to change their practice where necessary," said Judith Norrington, the AOC's director of curriculum and quality.
The push for college expansion since incorporation has caused standards to drop, according to David Sherlock, the ALI's chief inspector.
"In the past decade, colleges were encouraged to grow at all costs. As a result, many offer programmes in which they have few traditional strengths, and standards have suffered," he said.
"Our findings suggest that colleges should concentrate on their strengths. They should often work in partnership with other kinds of provider, especially employers, to deliver a good local service relevant to adults' needs."