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'Infamous' college back in control

A COLLEGE once described by MPs as "spiralling out of control" is now well on the way to recovery, a re-inspection has found.

Halton College, in Widnes, was one of the most infamous colleges in the further education sector. Investigated by the Further Education Funding Council, the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, it did much to sour the reputation of colleges in general.

The principal and his deputy were suspended and then resigned, most of the governing body resigned, and there were 170 redundancies.

But, in a soon-to-be published report, Halton shows that it has made considerable gains. The FEFC's report says that "since the appointment of the new principal in February 2000, the college has made rapid progress in addressing the weaknesses identified in the last inspection report and in implementing its recovery plan. The new management structure is effective and well-led."

When inspected in October 1999 it scored the lowest grade for governance, and there were no significant strengths. But with a new board, good progress has been made to address problems. They meet regulaly, attendance is good and they ask probing questions of managers.

Management too has improved. Now the leadership is open and consultative. There is a new and clear strategy which is well understood by staff. Crucially, its auditors have identified internal control weaknesses, which are a legacy of the previous management regime.

However, there is still some way to go. The college is still reliant on funding council money, and is having to put a great deal of resources into addressing its franchise provision - an area where it had been severely criticised.

The college had also been criticised for its quality assurance, health and care provision, and computing and information technology. All are now at least satisfactory and there have been significant improvements in the quality of teaching and learning.

Peter Kent, chair of governors, said: "I am delighted that we have had some excellent exam results, better than the national average and significantly higher than our competitors. More students than ever have enrolled at the college. We are committed to help them to achieve their best."

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