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Morale sinks after college course cuts

Students and lecturers lose out under new inspection regime. Steve Hook reports

STUDENTS face being left high and dry as a college suspends courses following one of the first new-style post-16 inspections.

Redbridge College, in Romford, Essex - whose motto is "high quality serving the individual" - is understood to have been given grade 4s for management and curriculum. It was one of five to be visited by the Office for Standards in Education under the new inspection programme, which includes the full curriculum and adult learning.

Ruth Durbridge, the acting principal, says she has been forced to close some courses as a result of the inspectors' findings, so the college can concentrate on its strengths.

The cuts come after post-16 chief inspector Stephen Grix warned that colleges could expect poorer grades than they received in previous Further Education Funding Council reports because the full range of activities is now included in a single inspection.

The other colleges awaiting reports from the first batch of new-style inspections are Teesside, Stockport, Suffolk and Brooklands. Redbridge is expected to be among the first three to have their reports published.

A number of A-levels and GCSEs are expected to be abandoned, as well as courses in business administration, science, engineering and media studies. Redundancies are expected to result from the cuts, which are believed to have been agreed at a governor's meeting last week when the inspection grades became known.

The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education claims there is a long-standing morale problem at the college, where downsizing has already begun.

There was a one-day strike at the college in March after lecturer Ken Weiss lost his job when his photography course was axed. There has also been a dispute between the college and lecturers' union NATFHE over staff contracts.

"You have to look at the problems the college has had with stress levels among staff and say talk of redundancies and cuts to courses is not making things any better," said Liz Martins, NATFHE regional official.

"If redundancies are to be considered, we want to be given more information about what is going on."

The union is seeking clarification about how many students will be affected, how many lecturers' jobs will be lost and how many courses will be discontinued.

The college announced earlier this year that it would be embarking on a restructuring programme. It says its strategy for the future will be "further developed" in the light of the inspectors' findings, which have already been made known informally to the corporation, in advance of official publication expected in July.

"It was a challenge to be amongst the first colleges in the country to experience the new rigorous approach," said Ms Durbridge.

"Preliminary verbal indications have confirmed that there are many areas of good education and training in the college. However, inspectors have also judged that improvements are necessary in some areas.

"As part of our improvement strategy a decision has been made to close a few programmes in order to ensure high-quality education and training for September 2001. We are working closely with neighbouring colleges to ensure continued provision and care for the few students directly affected."

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