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Ofsted criticised for blame culture

As inspectors accuse three colleges of offering poor value for money, the AoC urges the watchdog to become more constructive. Joe Clancy reports

The Office for Standards in Education has been accused of giving colleges a rough ride as three more are named and shamed for being graded "inadequate" in the way they are run.

West Herts College and Oakland College, both in Hertfordshire, and Reading College in Berkshire have all been castigated for providing poor value for money, in the latest reports this week.

Rosemary Clark, quality manager at the Association of Colleges, said Ofsted should work more closely with colleges in order to offer advice as well as criticism.

She said: "What typifies almost all colleges with poor inspection grades is that they are large, general FE colleges. We need to look very carefully at this, not in any attempt to excuse poor provision, but to try to understand the very real and complex challenges faced by some colleges.

"If as an inspector you identify a weakness, you presumably have in your mind an idea of what better provision would look like. It seems wasteful to keep that information to yourself."

The latest inspection reports, published this week, follow similar verdicts being passed in February on Enfield and Southgate colleges in north London, and on Stroud College in Gloucestershire. In March, Hadlow College in Kent was also rated inadequate.

Of the 48 colleges inspected by Ofsted last autumn term, seven have now been branded inadequate - and some reports are still to be published.

At West Herts, leadership and management were deemed to be "very weak".

Inspectors said the college had no key strengths.

Reading and Oakland colleges both achieved the grade four category of "unsatisfactory".

Tony Pitcher, interim principal at West Herts, has been hired to turn around several failing colleges since retiring as principal of South East Essex College in Southend.

He said: "Ofsted does not always address the right issues and the inspectors seem to misunderstand the way people learn best in an adult college environment."

Staff at West Herts had been told they would all have to apply for their own jobs as Mr Pitcher looks to make more than 100 redundancies to help cut more than pound;3m from the budget.

Less drastic action now looks likely because the college has agreed to consult unions over how redundancies will be managed.

The Association for College Management, which assumed its own members would be the first to be axed, says it is confident that the college will ensure as many redundancies as possible are voluntary.

Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "There will be a trawl for voluntary redundancies. If there are fewer jobs than there are people then there will have to be some sort of selection process and the trades unions will be involved in deciding what that process will be.

"It is a question of going through proper processes with consultation and I'm reasonably confident that will happen."

Fred McCrindle, Reading's principal at the time of its inspection, was awarded the OBE in last year's birthday honours list for services to further education.

Graham Jones 35

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