Adult FE centre gets poor set of marks

7th April 2000 at 01:00
Latest HMI findings show performance in further education ranges from first class to somewhat less so, writes Neil Munro

THE INSPECTORATE has painted a largely unflattering picture of Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland's only adult education residential centre.

Only seven of the 16 categories covered by HMI are rated as good, while seven are fair and two - including management of education provision and quality assurance - - are judged unsatisfactory.

Even the college's raison d'etre, its contribution to lifelong learning, is said to be only fair, which means there are important weaknesses.

While the students were found to be well-prepared for entry to higher education, this was not the case for those intending to move into a job.

The inspectors also noted that there were "no explicit criteria" for selecting students. Those students from areas where adult education was sparse were not targeted, and there was little provision for flexible learning and IT.

These weaknesses meant the college was not fulfilling its commitment to lifelong learning.

The college management was also accused of failing to live up to its commitments on paper when it came to its wider educational strategy.

Most policies were "implicit" and not written down. Academic planning was not systematic, and there were no clear links between market research, curriculum development and spending decisions.

Quality assurance was "unsatisfactory", the lowest of the four HMI grades, which means there are major weaknesses.

Among these were the lack of systematic feedback from students, university tutors or employers. There were no quality policy statements or explicit quality standards for courses.

But the HMI report praised good information and guidance for course applicants, very good student induction and strong support for students in their choice of what to study.

Newbattle, which sits in more than 100 acres of garden and wooded grounds on the edge of Dalkeith, narrowly avoided closure under the Conservatives after Government funding was withdrawn in 1989, but a pound;250,000 grant was restored byLabour in 1998.

Although there is accommodation for 90 students, only 19 of the 36 full-time students stayed in the college residences.

By contrast, Aberdeen College, Scotland's largest, received a glowing HMI endorsement covering 12 teaching areas as well as its management and contribution to lifelong learning.

Of the 106 categories which were rated on the four-point HMI scale, 28 were very good and 73 were good; only five were fair and none was unsatisfactory.

The inspectors saw 183 lessons, of which 90 per cent were good or very good. The areas judged to be fair were student achievement in electrical and electronic engineering, hospitality and catering, and land-based studies, as well as assessment in both electrical and mechanical engineering.

Student success in 1997-98, measured by the proportion of enrolled students who achieved some units, ranged from 56 per cent gaining national certificate modules in languages to 83 per cent in care; for higher national courses the range was from 57 per cent in languages to 87 per cent in care and in art and design.

The other measure, which takes the number of students who stayed the course and successfully completed their full programmes, shows a much greater variation in performance, from 37 per cent of full-time FE hospitality students to 94 per cent of those taking languages; for part-time FE, the figures ranged from zero for communication and media students to 100 per cent for languages courses.

Aberdeen, described by HMI as a complex college with more than 20,000 students and 500-plus directly employed staff, was said to be successful in meeting the needs of its local community and businesses, and had made a "very good" contribution to lifelong learning.

Students were well-taught and teaching was demanding, staff-student relations were good, facilities were well-resourced, staff were fully involved in decision-making and the management provided "clear strategic educational direction".

David Morgan, chairman of the college's board of management, said it was delighted with "a first-class report". GAIL PRENTICE

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