From 'England's most hated college' to Ofsted outstanding

4th February 2011 at 00:00

Barnsley College is celebrating its transformation from the self- described "most hated college in England" to an "outstanding" institution, according to Ofsted inspectors.

The college's reputation was shattered 10 years ago after it was revealed that senior managers had stolen nearly pound;1 million over seven years through a college-owned company, Progress Training, in one of the most high- profile abuses of franchising since colleges left local authority control.

Stuart Spacey, a former lecturer who was company secretary of Progress Training, was sentenced in 2007 to 18 months in prison and ordered to repay pound;470,000 after admitting conspiracy to defraud.

The judge acknowledged Mr Spacey was a secondary figure in the crime, but former principal David Eade was judged unfit to stand trial due to ill- health.

The college next came to attention as the symbol of last year's capital funding crisis, with parts of its old campus reduced to rubble as the national grants to pay for its replacement ran out. The images helped win Barnsley emergency funding and its new buildings are due to open in September.

Colin Booth, who took over the college as principal when it was rated "satisfactory" in 2007, said the formula for restoring the college's reputation was "simple". He said it had the advantage of a tertiary system, which eliminated competition from small school sixth-forms and created economies of scale.

Ofsted inspectors praised the college's results, despite it being in one of the most deprived parts of the country.

They said: "In an area characterised by relatively low levels of attainment at the end of compulsory schooling, the college has become extremely effective at raising the aspirations of its learners, supporting them to succeed and celebrating their achievement. For many learners their experience at the college is transformational."

Employers praised the college's use of labour market intelligence to provide the most relevant courses and the work it does finding candidates for hard-to-fill jobs, while students praised the "consistently enjoyable" lessons and even found a kind word to say about the quality of canteen food.

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