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Ten colleges hog the poor grades

But 42 out of 104 face a return visit from the inspectors. Rosie Waterhouse reports

JUST 10 colleges are responsible for 70 per cent of unsatisfactory provision, according to the Further Education Funding Council chief inspector's annual report.

Worst offenders were Bilston Community College, Matthew Boulton College in Birmingham, and Wirral Metropolitan, each with eight or more failing departments.

The others are Cordwainers College, London; Ealing Tertiary; East Devon; East Yorkshire; the Isle of Wight College; Kidderminster; Rowley Regis, West Midlands; and West Thames. In five of the colleges at least half of the provision was found to be unsatisfactory.

All received the lowest grades - four or five - in three or more departments or subject areas in inspections over the last year. The 10 emerge from a list of 42 colleges which will have to be re-inspected to monitor progress.

Chief inspector Jim Donaldson's report highlights some recurring problems in the 104 colleges inspected in 199899:

quality assurance still weak;

poor management information systems - 40 colleges have incomplete data on students;

inadequate support and monitoring of part-time students;

lack of staff able to help students with a history of failure;

too many students enrolling on the wrong course and leaving with no qualifications;

one in seven colleges with less than satisfactory governance;

management unsatisfactory in one in nine colleges.

Other problems the chief inspector says must be tackled include average student absence rate of 22 per cent, and a persistent 7 per cent of poor teaching. On some courses more than 30 per cent of students dropped out, with maths, science and some business studies courses suffering the worst completion rates.

On the positive side inspectors judged more than 90 per cent of teaching to be at least satisfactory, including 65 per cent which was good or outstanding.

Colleges have made significant progress in raising achievement - in 19989 4 per cent more students gained a qualification than in 19978 - against a background of widening participation and a 2 per cent increase in student numbers. The greatest gains of up to 10 per cent were made through improving performance of the bottom 25 per cent of colleges.

The report also reveals fundamental problems with the way college managers evaluate themselves. Over a third of colleges over-rated their performance.

The disparity between the outcome of a college's own self assessment and the judgment of independent inspectors rose from 34 per cent last year to 41 per cent - with 7 per cent underestimating their performance.

Although most self-assessment grades were validated by inspectors, Mr Donaldson said: "There is still more work to do before self-assessment is fully embedded.

"Some people are insufficiently self-critical. They need to take a more holistic view of the college. If their academic performance is mediocre they should not award themselves high grades for management. Sometimes they don't give due weight to student retention and achievement," he said.

Welcoming the report, Baroness Blackstone, the minister for further and higher education, said: "I want to see the problem areas tackled quickly. I don't want students or employers to think they have been short-changed."

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