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Self-service success

The principal of one of England's highest-achieving colleges attributes its success to lack of interference from governors and a no-nonsense approach to staff.

Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies gained nine out of a possible 13 grade 1s, in a full Further Education Funding Council inspection.

Inspectors said there were "many strengths and very few weaknesses" in management, student recruitment and services, all areas of resources, including staffing and accommodation, and in catering, hospitality and hairdressing.

The remaining inspection areas - leisure and tourism, modern languages, health and care and quality assurance - achieved grade 2s as inspectors said that "strengths clearly outweigh the weaknesses".

Eddie McIntyre, the principal and former chef at London's prestigious Dorchester Hotel, said the staff motto had helped: "Keep it simple, pay attention to detail and if you can't do it, stay out of the way".

But the clinching factor was the lack of interference from the board. "The governing body set a strategic direction and allowed me to get on with running the place. If I don't get it right, my jacket will be on a shaky hook," he said.

So far he seems safe - under his leadership, the college has gone Pounds 14 million into the black.

The report, published this week, praises the college management for "strong, supportive leadership" with well-defined aims.

"Staff are well-qualified and the quality of teaching is very good. The majority of students successfully achieve vocational qualifications. A high proportion enter higher education or take up relevant employment. The college is committed to quality at all levels," the inspectors said.

There were strong links with industry at home and overseas, well-developed policy and practice for staff development and equipment which met industrial standards.

Problems included low student attendance on some courses and the need for better records of achievement and reports of performance. The inspectors criticised the lack of clear policy on some work placements and said there was a need for more flexible approaches to learning. The criticisms prevented the college making a clean sweep of 13 grade 1s.

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