A specialist arts college has been condemned by Ofsted inspectors, joining a dwindling band of "inadequate" FE institutions.
The watchdog has described Hereford College of Arts as an "inadequate college where the quality of provision has declined" just four years after it was rated "good" by inspectors.
Managers and governors at the college, which specialises in art, design, music and performing arts, "have not taken sufficient action to remedy declining performance", the report said, and it warned that the college had an inadequate capacity to improve.
FE colleges are seldom given Ofsted's lowest grade, with just four of the 79 institutions inspected in 200910 found to be inadequate.
In response, the college argued that the judgment was "unbalanced and disproportionate to the overall college performance", and said it would submit a complaint about the report's findings.
But its performing arts provision has been inadequate for the last three years, the Ofsted report said.
"While learners who successfully complete their course of study achieve well, with many achieving high grades, too many leave their course before the planned end date without achieving," it added.
The report said principal Richard Heatly was "passionately committed to making the arts accessible to all and to promoting individual learners' successes".
But it added: "Leaders, managers and governors have not focused sufficiently on ensuring the key performance indicators of a successful college have been prioritised and have not taken timely action to improve the quality of teaching and learning or to raise learners' retention and success rates. Strategic and operational oversight are inadequate."
Quality-improvement arrangements are described by inspectors as "ineffective" and, while the college has made "good progress" in identifying issues raised in the last inspection, success and retention rates have dropped below the national average.
Retention rates are "significantly" below national levels on some courses, especially in performing arts, where provision remains "inadequate", the report said.
A spokeswoman for Hereford College of Arts said the report focused too much on poor retention levels in "a few" courses.
"(Inspectors) have based their outcome on a very small actual number of the college's students, and we regard the judgment as unbalanced and disproportionate to the overall college performance: we are therefore appealing against the outcome," she said.
"The college remains proud of the high quality of its education and confident that most students do very well indeed and progress to excellent universities and employment - we do not think that the inspection adequately recognised the college's strengths.
"The college accepts that some of the criticism of the report highlights areas for improvement, and are working hard to put them right."
The spokeswoman added: "The college feels that the overall Ofsted judgment was not fairly or accurately made on the evidence submitted, and relied on differential weightings given to aspects of the evidence that are not contained within Ofsted's published guidelines of inspection."
Jonathan Godfrey, principal of neighbouring Hereford Sixth-Form College, said the report was "not a fair reflection of their excellent work".
He added: "The national reputation Hereford College of Arts enjoys for its degree courses is well known and I would confidently recommend it to students wanting to study in a specialist college at any level."
An Ofsted spokesman said the watchdog does not comment on individual complaints.