Inspectors asked to leave after `troubling incidents'
During the intense scrutiny of an Ofsted inspection, principals could be forgiven for fantasising about telling inspectors to sling their hook. But Newcastle College has become the first institution to turn this fantasy into reality after asking an Ofsted team to leave partway through an inspection.
The unprecedented move came as a result of what the college has described as "some troubling incidents" involving inspectors and staff.
In a memo to staff seen by TES, Dame Jackie Fisher (pictured left), executive principal of the college's parent organisation NCG, the biggest FE organisation in the country, paid tribute to "the self-confidence and belief of our staff and students, who were not intimidated by inspectors but who held their ground from a position of professional and ethical confidence".
It has also been claimed that the inspectors were offered counselling following a confrontation with teachers.
The NCG memo reveals that, following the "untimely end" of the aborted inspection in early June, the college "finally agreed to allow the inspectors to return" last week. The inspection has now been concluded and a spokesman for NCG said it had already submitted an official complaint to Ofsted about the inspection.
The final report has not yet been released, but provisional results shared with Newcastle College reveal that it is likely to be graded "good" overall. In its last full inspection in 2008, the college was rated "outstanding" in every area.
Of the colleges inspected so far in 2012, about two-thirds have seen their overall grade decline.
"Many of you are aware that the Ofsted inspection was not entirely trouble free," Dame Jackie's memo said. "We are planning to pursue with Ofsted some outstanding matters which may improve the grade profile. However, based on Ofsted's track record in listening to provider complaints, this must be viewed as unlikely, regardless of how strong our case is.
"I would like to thank you for all of the hard work you put in to planning and preparing for inspection and the excellent way you responded to inspectors," she added.
An Ofsted spokeswoman confirmed that the initial inspection had been cut short, but refused to comment on the case.
An NCG spokesman said: "We are very concerned with the way the inspection was conducted and there were some troubling incidents, which meant the inspection ended before it was complete. We agreed inspectors could return to complete the inspection last week. We have officially complained to Ofsted and are awaiting their response."
Iain Owens, the University and College Union's North East regional official, said he believed the college had accused Ofsted inspectors of "bullying" staff - a claim that the watchdog had denied.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said this was the first case he had heard of where Ofsted was asked to leave midway through an inspection. "Certainly people have talked about it, but I have not heard of any cases of it happening," he said.
"We would expect that, if there is a problem, people will be able to resolve it with the lead inspector. If not, the advice we give is to call our advice line and we will talk to Ofsted directly."
Legally, schools and colleges are obliged to allow Ofsted entry to their premises for the purposes of inspection.
At the NUT's annual conference in April, the union said it would consider a campaign of "non-cooperation" with Ofsted, following similar action taken by teaching unions in Northern Ireland that saw inspectors barred from the classroom.
Newcastle College has rarely been far from the headlines since it announced plans to axe a tenth of its workforce last year.
A merger with neighbouring Northumberland College collapsed in November, with Northumberland insisting that the behaviour of Newcastle College's parent organisation NCG was having a "negative impact" on its reputation.
NCG also fell out with the city council and local schools after submitting a bid for a free school in the city. This has since been rejected.
Original headline: Inspectors given their marching orders after `troubling incidents'