Decade made all the difference
What a difference a decade makes, Moray College will be reflecting this week. Almost 10 years ago, Robert Chalmers, then principal, was suspended as a "precautionary step" while investigations were carried out into the running of the college.
Two damning reports followed in 2001, from the Auditor General for Scotland and the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, triggering a review of management and accountability in the entire FE sector. Moray College was not popular.
Today, HMIE has issued a report on the college which is unrecognisable from its reputation in those "pariah" days. Among the conclusions is that it is "led well and is enhancing the quality of its services for learners and other stakeholders". Inspectors were particularly impressed by the way it takes into account the views of employers, staff and students in shaping its offerings.
Mike Devenney, the current principal who was the deputy in 2001, said: "Although you can never be sure about how these reviews will turn out, I was fairly confident because of the fact that all of the survey evidence we presented to HMIE beforehand was so positive from our students, local employers, schools and representatives of key community organisations.
"This knowledge was very reassuring and is the real and most important mark of the huge distance we've travelled in recent years, as our reputation and standing was at a very low ebb, looking back."
There is hardly any area which does not earn HMIE plaudits:
- "robust" quality assurance;
- "extensive" learner representation which leads to improvements;
- "high" retention rates among "well-motivated" students;
- "well-embedded" planning processes;
- "effective" working with partner organisations;
- "good" levels of vocational experience and professional ability among the staff.
Inspectors found "sector-leading" and "excellent" practice, ranging from creating the Moray Science Festival to using YouTube to help students who have problems with the bursary application form.
Student engagement is becoming a key focus of college inspections. The inspectors were taken with what they found in Elgin, in the contribution students made not only to enhancing their own learning but to influencing teaching programmes through an "extensive class representative system".
The report states: "In almost all classes, learners are able to discuss clearly and confidently their learning styles with teaching staff."
Among the innovations which have produced this confidence are student advisers, including one who tests students online to find out about their learning styles; this is then used to match them to their next phase of learning.
Another feature is "huddle groups" in which class representatives meet student advisers to discuss how the experience of learners can be improved.
The report suggests that this is not just cosmetic. "Learners are confident the college, through the class representative system, addresses effectively issues raised by them," the inspectors found. "They also have a realistic understanding that not all requests are possible due to limitations related to funding and other external influences."
Moray College has another reason for celebrating this week: it is just about to report its first accumulated surplus since colleges left local government control in 1993. This compares with a total deficit of pound;2.5 million in 2001, and required the college to make an operating surplus of nearly pound;4m to reach this point.