Agriculture school branded 'weak'

19th January 2001 at 00:00
BOTH the governance and the financial management of Bicton College of Agriculture is weak, according to inspectors from the Further Education Funding Council.

The college, which is the major provider of land-based courses in Devon, has weaknesses which outweigh its strengths in the two areas.

The college, nine miles from Exeter, has 769 full-time and 4,242 part-time students and is the sole national provider for students supported financially by the National Trust and the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals.

The inspectors reported that some aspects of governance identified by the college as strengths were in fact normal practice. It was also said that the corporation did not conduct its business in accordance with the instrument and articles of government, or fulfil its responsibilities under the financial memorandum with the funding council.

The governors did not play a full role in the preparation of the strategic plan, or monitor events sufficiently to form an accurate view of the college's performance.

There was little evidence of an informed debate about college priorities, and governors had no clear targets. The corporation "does not receive regular reports on students' achievements, retention or te range of provision, and those it does receive are inadequate".

Following the last inspection, when the effectiveness of management had been questioned, there had been a restructuring. This had improved communications and staff appreciated the approachable style.

But there was no clear strategic planning process or planning cycle, no systematic monitoring of departmental activities. Managers were not sufficiently accountable for their actions or for the performance of students. Some staff were unaware of targets for their courses.

Senior managers were expected to review accounts on a monthly basis, but none had been produced since May 2000.

On a brighter note, 64 per cent of lessons were good or outstanding, above the national average, and attendance was also better than for most other colleges.

John Lee, chair of governors of Bicton, said: "Whilst we recognise our strengths, the principal and his colleagues recognise that there is real work to do to address weaknesses."

Principal Malcolm Florey said: "What was particularly pleasing was the recognition that the work of most students was of a good standard, with 90 per cent progressing to employment or higher education."

Ngaio Crequer

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