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Mersey area beats the rest at 14-19

It may be an area with high levels of social and economic disadvantage, but it is turning heads with its achievements in further education.

Knowsley on Merseyside is celebrating its second "outstanding" rating in a year from inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the Adult Learning Inspectorate (Ali). The achievement is especially impressive as the report follows a highly critical 16-19 area report in 2001.

Last year Knowsley College became only the third in the country to win an outstanding grade. Now Knowsley's local education authority has become the first to be graded outstanding for "the standards and quality of education and training opportunities offered to 14 to 19 year-olds".

Ofsted and Ali describe the 14 to 19 curriculum as highly inclusive, cohesive, and suitable for nearly all types of learners. In addition to the overall outstanding rating, it is also the first in the country to win grade one ratings for its strategy, its access to and participation in education and training, and for leadership and management.

The report states: "Outstanding leadership and excellent strategic planning are informed by a clear vision for the area. Leaders and managers are working together effectively to radically transform education in Knowsley.

"Extensive collaboration between schools, the college, work-based learning providers and employers has resulted in a highly co-ordinated, wide-ranging inclusive curriculum. "There is excellent provision for the most vulnerable learners aged 14 to 16, particularly those who are at risk of dropping out of school."

Ofsted-led area inspections of 16-19 education and training began in 1999.

From March 2003, they were extended to cover 14-19s. In total, 71 authorities have been inspected, 33 for 14-19.

The report singles out the college as being "extremely responsive to the needs of the local community, schools and employers". Knowsley College was the first in the country to establish a skills centre specifically for vocational education of the 14 to 16 groups in 15 vocational subject areas.

Sir George Sweeney, the college's principal, said: "It was a pioneering vision to treat 14 to 19 as one coherent phase. I personally derive a great deal of pleasure when people look at what we do here and say 'that's good'."

Elaine Bowker, executive director of the Greater Merseyside Learning and Skills Council, said: "There are so many things in the report to be pleased about, but particularly the acknowledgement that we are making a real difference to young people.

"We are one of the most deprived areas, but have one of the highest post-16 participation rates."

FE minister Kim Howells said: "This is a superb report. Knowsley had much to do following its first 16-19 inspection. The improvement at a faster rate than nationally in results for 16-year-olds and the increase in post-16 participation are considerable accomplishments."

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