Mission missed by Ofsted

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Tony Pitcher, the principal called in to sort out the failing West Herts college, has called for a rethink of the way inspections are carried out.

"I cannot say they have been unfair to this college. But, taking a broader view, I do feel very critical of the way they operate," he said. "They too often show a thorough misunderstanding of the way people learn in the adult and college environment."

In his criticisms, Mr Pitcher echoes recent concerns of the Association of Colleges, that inspectors praise or condemn but offer no advice.

At West Herts, Ofsted's damning report pointed to "unsatisfactory" performance in three of 14 curriculum areas and said only four were "good", while leadership and management were "very weak".

"Well, yes," said Mr Pitcher, who has until December to sort out the college's fortunes. "But when it comes to the detail, they fail to understand how colleges work. For example, they say there are not enough computers in classrooms and that too many are locked away from students."

This, insists Mr Pitcher, is to see colleges as just a bigger version of schools. "But our mission is far more complex. Reforms to widen participation call for different approaches to teaching." The way Osted is currently constituted also discourages curriculum teams from getting involved, he said.

"What we should be seeing is more drop-in centres and learning resource centres, properly staffed and equipped to encourage students to come in and learn."

It was at this level that colleges often needed constructive help and advice. "The culture has changed over the past 20 years from 35 hours a week classroom learning to 17 or 18 hours plus structured learning support for individual students."

The Ofsted report did show strengths at West Herts in media technology, music, performing arts, food and hospitality and hair and beauty. "These we can build on and other areas we can improve. We are not expressly addressing the Ofsted inspection because what needs to be done already encompasses all they say in the report says and a lot more besides."

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