"THE important thing to remember is that inspection is not just about accountability - it is also about quality improvement."
So said Jim Donaldson, the Further Education Funding Council's chief inspector, when publishing the results of the re-
inspection of Wirral Metropolitan College.
Last year the college was given grade 5s, the lowest possible mark for governance, management, quality asurance and student support. Five curriculum areas were given a grade 4. The college was out of control. The principal resigned and so did the governing body, effectively forced out by the Education and Employment Secretary.
But with a new board, new principal and a lot of help from the funding council - plus pound;740,000 from the Standards Fund - the college has turned itself round.
It has scored a suite of grade 3s (satisfactory provision with strengths but also some weaknesses) across all areas and made significant progress in every department. The college has pulled itself from the brink of insolvency, has met its income targets and begun to pay its debts.
Its management style has become open and responsive, say the inspectors. Governors ask challenging questions. Teaching and learning has significantly improved. In basic education, for example, only one lesson was judged unsatisfactory, compared with 21 per cent last time.
Ray Dowd, who took over as principal, said the dramatic improvement was because the college focused on its core business, the students.
"We said we had go to get teaching and learning right. The re-inspection shows that the significant improvement in teaching and learning has moved our grades up. We are recognising good performance and setting new objectives.
"We cannot deny that the Standards Fund money played a part, but that had to be used to demonstrate our improvements in both retention and achievement."
But weren't the major problems in governance and management?
"The college financial situation was dire so it is easy to say that. But teaching and learning has been the focus of our attention, and the commitment and hard work of the staff have been at the heart of the achievement.
"We are only now an average college. This is the first time we have received a 3 for management and governance. Even in 1996 we only received 4s."
A spokeswoman for NATFHE, the lecturers' union, said it was pleased that the good work that had always gone on had been acknowledged.
"We felt the first inspection was political and obviously designed to get rid of the old regime. But the teaching is quite satisfactory and on the up, especially with the extra resources."
However, staff morale is low and strike action during the re-
inspection was only narrowly avoided as the college has not paid the 3.3 per cent pay rise for lecturers in full.
Mr Dowd said 2 per cent had already been paid and he would recommend the full 3.3 per cent if there was a good re-inspection report and the college met its student intake targets.