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A Jewel of a comeback

The principal of Jewel and Esk Valley College has been basking in HMI approbation, a very different experience from two years ago.

The full inspection of the college, with bases in Edinburgh and Dalkeith, made 54 recommendations for action where weaknesses were highlighted, in one of the hardest-hitting reports yet on an FE college.

The follow-up visit has now reported and pronounces 50 of the 54 areas "satisfactory".

"This is as close to perfect as you can get," Howard McKenzie, the principal, said in his response.

The initial inspection took place six weeks after Mr McKenzie took up the job. One of the shortcomings was a lack of direction from the top, but HMI says Mr McKenzie is "open, business-like and effective".

College staff, the report says, "were well informed about key educational priorities such as the development of ICT to support learning and management, and partnership working".

Other areas that have been overhauled in response to HMI's strictures were staff development, a strategy for learning, the approach to guidance and student support, and the inclusiveness of under-represented groups.

Mr McKenzie said that he had used the initial report as a "stepping stone" to put the college on the right track.

Inspectors acknowledged in 2002 that the newly arrived principal had taken "decisive action and was developing a clear vision". But the changes had led to uncertainty at the time, particularly following the suspension of the strategic plan.

They passed only a "fair" verdict on the college's educational leadership and direction.

Mr McKenzie's efforts may have made him popular with HM inspectors, but he had an uncomfortable few months with an inquiry into anonymous allegations about his conduct. He was subsequently cleared on all counts.

The college also appears to have made a positive impact on students, 98 per cent of whom said they would recommend it while 92 per cent expressed satisfaction with their college experience. Of those who had enrolled, 82 per cent obtained a qualification.

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