A MANCHESTER college has received a string of low marks in key performance areas from inspectors - and been told that it is over-estimating the quality of its teaching.
The Shena Simon sixth-form college, in the city centre, has been told that weaknesses clearly outweigh strengths (grade 4) in mathematics and science, business and accounting, psychology, sociology and English, support for students, quality assurance, and management. For governance it got a grade 3: satisfactory provision with strengths but also some weaknesses.
"Retention rates on many courses are poor and the proportion of students beginning courses who achieve the qualification is low," the report said.
"Reliable management information is not widely available nor effectively used."
The report said that Manchester had the largest concentration of universities in Europe. Despite this, the city was ranked as the third-most deprived local authority in England. Of residents, 12 per cent are unemployed, twice the national average.
The college was inspected last May. It was, according to the report, unable to submit reliable data on students' achievements for 1999. Previous data may also have been unreliable, it said.
Of the lessons observed, 49 per cent were judged to be good or outstanding, comparing unfavourably with the national average of colleges inspected in 1998-99 of 65 per cent, and 6 per cent were judged to be less than satisfactory, the same as the national average.
The inspectors said that too little importance had been given to poor student retention rates. Grades awarded by inspectors who observed lessons were lower than those the college awarded internally and well below the national average.
Inspectors agreed with only one curriculum grade awarded by the college. They awarded lower grades in the other four curriculum areas and cross-college provision. Two of these were two grades worse that the internal grade, said the inspectors.
The senior management team had not overseen the performace of the college with enough rigour. There was also "little evidence" that significant issues affecting the whole college, such as the quality of teaching and learning, and student pass-rates, were discussed by the management team together.
"There is no record in the management team minutes of any consideration of an pound;86,000 overspend on staffing or of any plans to reduce the amount in order to meet the planned overspend of pound;50,000."
Moreover, annual estimates did not include balance-sheet or cashflow information. The college's internal auditors reported that in 1998-99 the internal control system was sound. "However, in respect of 1998-99 the college was unable to submit its financial statements and student records in accordance with Further Education Funding Council deadlines."
In maths and science, retention and pass rates were low on all courses. In 1998, only 35 out of 146 students expected to complete A-level courses passed. In chemistry, only 30 per cent of those who completed the course passed.
The inspectors praised lessons in English for speakers of other languages. Of the 15 lessons observed, nine were judged to be outstanding and the others were all good. Teaching in this area was lively and imaginative, and students were actively engaged. Students gained in confidence, and progressed to higher levels.
All students are screened on entry for numeracy and literacy support needs, but of those diagnosed as needing support, only 45 per cent received it.
Use of the student counselling service was poor. During the spring term no counselling for personal issues was offered by the college for a four-month period.
There was inadequate support for students intending to go on to higher education. Last year, 28 per cent of students applying to go to university missed the admissions deadline date.
The governance of the college is weak, inspectors say. The governing body does not conduct its business in accordance with the instrument and articles of government.
Report attacks senior managers and says weaknesses outweigh strengths in most key areas, reports Ngaio Crequer