One of the UK's largest college groups has been rated “requires improvement” by Ofsted, having previously been found to be “good”.
The proportion of learners at NCG who achieve qualifications in English and mathematics was low, inspectors highlighted, and too often teachers on study programmes had low expectations of what learners could achieve and did “not give learners sufficiently challenging work”.
According to the Ofsted report, apprentices made slow progress, and the proportion who achieved their qualifications in the planned time was “too low”. Too few learners on study programmes at Newcastle College went on external work placements to apply their skills in real work settings, it adds, also highlighting that a minority of learners and apprentices did not have a secure enough understanding of how to keep themselves safe from the risks of radicalisation and extremism.
Leaders' and managers' actions had not brought about rapid improvement to rectify weaknesses in areas such as learners’ attendance, according to the inspection report.
Inspectors say that while NCG governance arrangements are being reformed, governors did “not always provide sufficiently effective support or challenge to senior leaders across the group”.
NCG is made up of six colleges as well as two training providers, employing a total of around 2,500 staff across 61 locations. Earlier this year, it appointed former Education and Skills Funding Agency chief executive Peter Lauener as chair (pictured, left). The inspection covered all provision at Newcastle College, Newcastle Sixth Form College, West Lancashire College, Carlisle College, Kidderminster College and Lewisham Southwark College. It also covered 16-19 study programmes at Rathbone Training.
Intraining, a training provider owned by NCG, was also found to “require improvement” in a separate inspection report, also published today. According to Ofsted inspectors, most groups of apprentices did not achieve well enough in 2016-17. “Achievement for the small number of apprentices aged between 16 and 18 on level 3 apprenticeships and higher level apprenticeships was very low,” the report says. It adds that “the NCG board does not provide managers with sufficient challenge on the underperformance of apprenticeships”.
NCG chief executive Joe Docherty (pictured, right) said: “There is no getting away from the fact that these are very disappointing results, based as they are on the published results for the 2016-17 academic year. However, a single inspection grade across the six NCG colleges masks stronger performance in some areas and weaker performance in others.
“While the inspectors found strengths and areas to improve in every college, the report particularly flags good provision in Carlisle College, Kidderminster College, Lewisham Southwark College and West Lancashire College. It also makes clear that both Newcastle Sixth Form College and Newcastle College have more work to do in order to meet the high standards we all must deliver.
“NCG has pioneered the college group model, and the current Ofsted inspection framework for FE is no longer fit for purpose when inspecting college groups. We need greater transparency when college groups are inspected and we’re pleased to be making the case to Ofsted for college-level inspections.”