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Party marks road to recovery

It will be a first anniversary with a difference. As Frances Wadhurst celebrates her first year in charge of East Surrey college, inspectors will be swarming over the institution she runs.

When they have gone, she will hold a party for the college's 730 staff. But one song that is unlikely to be played is the Rolling Stones' hit Time Is On My Side.

Two years ago, the college, in Redhill, Surrey, failed its inspection miserably and her predecessor departed soon afterwards.

Last May she took on the task of leading the college, with the inspectors due to return this May to check on progress.

She is hoping she has made a sufficient difference to impress the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

But she has had just a year in which to turn the college around and the inspectors will be making their judgements on performance during 2003-4, even though she was only at the college for the last three months of that period.

"One of the first things I tried to do on my arrival was to have the inspection date put back until September, but that wasn't possible," she said.

"It would have been easier for me to demonstrate a positive change had the inspection been the other side of the summer. Now they will be looking at data that is 11 months out of date.

"You do need a certain amount of time with a college to stabilise it and to make sure the recovery is sustainable.

"I had to build a completely new team. That was a wonderful opportunity but there was a time lag in getting them into place.

"It is amazing what we have managed to achieve already, but whether that will be enough to convince the inspectors remains to be seen."

One thing she is sure of is that the staff party will go ahead, even if the inspector's initial judgements on the college are negative.

"I know how hard the staff have worked in the few months since I have been here and they deserve a party," she said.

"There are 730 staff here and 9,000 students so the outcome of this inspection will touch 10,000 lives.

"Turning a college around is all about the staff because it is the staff who are going to do it. I have a core of very enthusiastic staff who are behind me in wanting to take the college forward."

At the 2003 inspection, six out of 10 curriculum areas were graded unsatisfactory, as was leadership and management. The college was rated inadequate.

She adds: "The inspectors can look at the data we give them for this year, but it is not the same as having a full set of achievement and success rates.

"The inspection is a snapshot and it is the learning experience the inspectors perceive at that juncture that counts. They are not really in the business of making any allowances."

She came to East Surrey from Cricklade college in Andover, Hampshire, where she was vice-principal and had a key role in rescuing the college from difficulties.

She is applying the lessons learned from that experience to East Surrey.

"The focus has been on the quality of teaching and learning, and in particular on reducing the percentage of unsatisfactory teaching. Last year it was 15 per cent. Now it is 6 per cent.

"It is easy to get distracted in a recovery college because there is so much to do. What we needed to do was to evaluate our judgements. Course reviews and self- assessments had not been robust.

"We have worked with six or seven other colleges and we have borrowed their senior staff to help train an observation team. People are very happy to share in work on quality improvement."


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