Fife has started - but its students aren't finishing
More than a third of full-time learners at Fife College do not complete their courses, according to a highly critical inspection report by Education Scotland.
Completion rates for both higher and further full-time education were found to be 2 per cent lower than the national average. Concerns were also raised about student engagement.
Education Scotland inspectors concluded that "the effectiveness of Fife College's arrangements to maintain and enhance the quality of its provision and outcomes for learners and other stakeholders is limited".
The report says: "This judgement means that there are some strengths in the college's arrangements for quality enhancement. However, there are weaknesses in arrangements for high-quality learning, learner engagement and quality culture. If not addressed, the importance of these weaknesses will continue to limit the effectiveness of the college's arrangements."
Formed in August 2013 through the merger of Adam Smith College, Carnegie College and part of Elmwood College, Fife faces a legacy of controversies, including two principals departing in quick succession from Adam Smith prior to the amalgamation.
`A difficult few years'
The report acknowledges that after the merger Fife College underwent "a major restructure of staff roles", and recently reorganised its curriculum delivery and management positions. Voluntary redundancies have also reduced total staff numbers.
However, the inspectors said that even though the college offered a varied programme of courses, learners were not actively involved in the planning of activities and staff did not use a sufficiently wide range of teaching approaches.
The report says: "The college has not yet established an appropriate level of information, advice and support services to learners on all campuses.
"Actions taken through internal review activities in the last academic year often focus on issues related to programme management, and rarely focus on learning and teaching. In addition, not all issues identified within the reports are addressed with clear actions."
It adds that although the principal and senior management team at the college provide "purposeful leadership for the college curriculum", a number of staff have been recently appointed, meaning that support teams are "not yet fully effective". Geographical issues arising from operating out of different campuses are also adding to the challenges.
The report states: "The college has a clear commitment to quality, and staff work diligently to ensure learners have a positive learning experience. However, new quality arrangements to engage staff better in self-evaluation and action planning have yet to have an impact on further improvements."
Both college management and student representatives welcomed the report but acknowledged the challenges the college had faced.
Principal Hugh Logan said it had been "a difficult few years for further education in Fife". He added: "Against a backdrop of cuts in funding, we have come through a challenging merger process. It is early days and many challenges still lie ahead as we strive to improve all areas of college life for our students and partners.
"We are working hard to improve on the areas for development and action, some of which have come about as a result of the merger process, and we have introduced a number of plans and processes to achieve these aims."
Alasdair Clark, vice-president for education and representation at Fife College Students' Association, said: "We welcome the Education Scotland report and the areas where the college has been identified as doing well.
"We also welcome the recognition of Fife College Students' Association's development since its formation last year. We are keen now to move forward and work together with the college to improve the areas the report highlights, so that we have the best college possible for our students."