Song and dance at Stilgoe centre

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Inspectors criticise actorsongwriter Richard Stilgoe's residential centre, reports Joe Clancy

Richard Stilgoe has vowed to carry on with his work providing performing arts apprenticeships for disabled students despite a scathing report from inspectors.

The actor and songwriter, who founded the Orpheus Centre, in Godstone, Surrey, said: "We are the best in the country at what we do and this report will not deter us. The language used in the report is demoralising, but we will not be demoralised by it. I have spent my life on stage dealing with the critics."

Inspectors judged the quality of provision at his college to be inadequate and issued the same verdict about leadership and management.

They said that the management of the curriculum and of specialist support is unsatisfactory and that lesson plans do not sufficiently identify individual development targets.

The verdicts were delivered in a joint report from the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Mr Stilgoe added: "The word that most people use in describing us is 'wonderful', not 'inadequate'.

"Ofsted had no issues with the quality of teaching but with the bureaucracy that surrounds it. We were not very good at writing things down about the excellent work that we do."

Mr Stilgoe founded the centre in 1998, converting his former home near Godstone into a residential centre which now houses 23 of its 25 students.

Until two years ago, the centre was a care home that "used music and the performing arts as a vehicle for self-development", he explained.

As the educational aspect of the provision developed, the centre then applied for funding from the Learning and Skills Council for six of its apprentices.

"That meant a big change in culture for us," he added. "Our teaching is completely brilliant. What isn't brilliant is our reporting of it and we are making good progress towards improving that.

"We still have a lot to learn about what we write down. Very often the outside critic coming in and saying exactly what they think, is a help.

It's a spur to improve."

Mr Stilgoe said the centre takes students at 19 or 20 who have physical or sensual impairment. Two of its former students are now studying performing arts related courses at university.

"Of those who have left us, almost all are living independently rather than returning to residential care," he said. "We use performing arts so they will be good at a job interview, not so they go on the stage."

Inspectors found teaching satisfactory overall, but their report said: "The curriculum framework is still being developed and is not coherent. It does not provide for internal progression.

"Literacy and numeracy skills are insufficiently developed, initial assessment is inadequate and students' progress over time is difficult to evaluate."

Inspectors also found the centre's approach to social and educational inclusion to be unsatisfactory. The report added: "The centre does not have a strategy explicitly to promote equality and diversity.

"The Learning and Skills Council currently fund four male and two female students, none of whom are from an ethnic-minority background.

"Staff members have had little training in relation to race relations and special educational needs and disability legislation, and lack expertise to meet the needs of students with specific disabilities and learning difficulties, such as dyslexia."

Mr Stilgoe said that the LSC would continue to support those apprentices already in residence at the Orpheus Centre, but that it will not provide funding for any additional students until the label of inadequacy is lifted.

"We are confident we can achieve that before next September," he said.

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