Sights set at top of the league

Ian Nash reports on the findings of a TES survey which discovered that one in three colleges have frozen plans for growth.

David Croll awoke on day one of student enrolments praying local radio would have no news about Derby Wilmorton Tertiary College of which he is principal.

On the same day last year the world was rudely informed of secret papers showing 50 planned staff redundancies. Student recruitment did not start well, he admits. "If staff feel bad about themselves, they soon let students know."

A year on - and 50 staff fewer - prospects at Britain's most controversial FE college could not be more different. It looks set to be the fastest-growing and one of the most innovative institutions.

Part-time adult enrolments are up 61 per cent, full-time adults 31 per cent and school-leavers 6 per cent. Mr Croll has also introduced one of the most detailed monitoring schemes to prevent the recruitment dream turning into a drop-out nightmare when the Further Education Funding Council calls for figures (which bring the cash) on November 1.

Derby Wilmorton had its troubles with the damning Shattock Inquiry report on the management and first summary dismissal of governors. Mr Croll had arrived to take what was seen as the most poisoned chalice in the sector.

"I can now say everything feels secure. There are no Section 188 [redundancy] notices and if things go well, there is much more expansion ahead," he said.

He admits to being surprised at the size of the upturn. A big boost to adult recruitment was expected as the college had signed a deal with a national network of independent breweries for national vocational qualification training.

"This is not a franchising deal but a unique arrangement where our own staff carry out the distance learning programmes for the companies." It has added 1,427 new recruits to the college rolls. Other initiatives have added 900 .

Wilmorton has also abolished the basic Pounds 75 fee for full-time adults, that was an historic part of the college fee policy which Mr Croll took apart last year. Colin Marshall, corporate information manager, said it was the sort of fee that colleges always charged without thinking too much about it.

"It is small to us, maybe, but very big for the student in need. And Pounds 75 weighed against fee income generation is negligible."

With recruitment of 16 to 19-year-olds running at double the national average, staff are aware that here is the area most sensitive to students dropping-out. A wide range of support initiatives include a new tutorial system which requires every lecturer to sound the alarm as soon as the first student absence is reported. A sophisticated tracking programme follows to attract the student back or direct them to a more appropriate course.

When the final figures are published by the Further Education Funding Council, Mr Croll will be hoping for a Radio Derby announcement that they are top of the recruitment league.

TES september 27 1996 PICTURE CREDIT News team

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