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Pioneer of PFI 'poor value'

A college hailed as a private finance initiative pathfinder has been castigated by inspectors for providing poor value for money.

Two years ago, Newbury college was relocated to a 40-acre greenfield site in Berkshire in a pound;12million development.

But today inspectors publish a report severely criticising its teaching and learning.

It describes the overall quality of provision as inadequate, grading it unsatisfactory in three of the 11 curriculum areas and in all work-based learning areas.

Leadership and management are also graded unsatisfactory, with inspectors saying too little attention is given to addressing significant weaknesses in the quality of teaching and learning.

Management is not doing enough to tackle decreasing enrolments, quality assurance and curriculum management, say inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

However, the inspectors took the unusual step of exonerating Newbury's pound;90,000-a-year principal, Dr Anne Murdoch, from blame for the leadership failings.

In a separate statement, they said: "The college has undergone a substantial programme of change since the previous inspection in 1998. A new principal took up post in September 2001 and has provided strong management of these changes."

Dr Murdoch said: "Since the inspection we have taken the opportunity to refocus some teams across the college, improved staff training and development, and (emphasised) the quality of teaching and learning.

"The inspection has identified many strengths at Newbury college, but has also identified areas where we need to improve in order to provide the best possible service to learners within our local community," she said.

The college had a comprehensive action plan to improve retention of learners and embed new quality systems, she added.

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