Ofsted like ‘sword of Damocles’ for struggling colleges

Principal hits out at consequences of Ofsted giving ‘publicly-pronounced verdict of previous regime’

Ofsted is planning to regularly inspect 'outstanding' schools

Ofsted is like a “sword of Damocles for a college in intervention”, a senior college leader has claimed.

Addressing a session on “balancing oversight, support and intervention” at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference, Andrew Cropley hit out at the consequences of the watchdog giving a “publicly-pronounced verdict of a previous regime” for remaining staff.

Mr Cropley took over as principal and CEO of West Nottinghamshire College in May, following a period of FE commissioner intervention sparked by financial concerns at the college.


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Prior to his previous job at Craven College, he had worked at two other institutions which had experienced major difficulties prior to him taking over: Cadbury Sixth Form College and Stratford-upon-Avon College.

At the latter, Mr Cropley told the conference that an Ofsted report was published “56 days before we dissolved” and it merged with Solihull College and University Centre.

“Three staff went off with significant mental health issues on the day of inspection,” he said. “What was the point, apart from putting us through the mill? At Cadbury, [inspectors] came within six weeks of me arriving…We had an absolutely unfair experience of being inspected with a group of people [which] was trying to survive in the college.”

At West Nottinghamshire College, Mr Cropley said that the risk of an Ofsted inspection pronouncing a grade 4 ("inadequate") for apprenticeships, resulting in it being banned from taking on new apprentices, would be “massive” as the college continues its programme of recovery.

He added that while it was important to make sure that “quality isn’t forgotten”, he added that a “publicly-pronounced verdict of a previous regime… has an impact of the livelihoods of staff working in that college”.  

Ofsted has been contacted for comment.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen is TES' Further Education Editor. He has worked at TES since 2010, and was previously the education correspondent at the Cambridge News. He was the winner of the award for Outstanding National Education Journalism at the CIPR Education Journalism Awards in 2015 and 2013.