Warrington and Vale College 'very weak financially'

The FE commissioner has published his reports on Warrington and Vale College and Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Kate Parker

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Warrington and Vale College has a very “weak financial position” and needs to generate funds through land sales, a FE commissioner report has said. 

The college was placed into FE commissioner intervention on 17 June 2019 due to an inadequate financial health grade. 

The report, published today, says that there are “no major concerns around the governance and leadership of the college – governance processes and clerking arrangements are good.”

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However, it says that the merger that took place in 2017 with Mid Cheshire College “proved to be highly challenging”

The report says: “The college faces several key challenges, the most significant of which are as follows:

“A huge loss of learners from MCC (around 900 students aged 16 to 18) which started prior to 2015-16 but has accelerated since the merger to a position where student numbers across both the former MCC sites are below 400. 

“A very weak financial position and a need to generate funds through land sales. The successful management of these key critical matters are central to the future success of the college.” 

The report says that there are key areas for the college to improve on, including the delivery of learning to accounting and construction apprentices, the consistency of teaching and assessment methods and resources, and achievement and attendance in maths and English. 

However, it does praise college leaders and managers for “quickly and successfully implemented many positive changes post-merger, including shared systems and working practices which have resulted in rapid and sustained improvement” and says that work experience, achievement rates for high needs 16 to 18 learners and development of employability and occupational skills is good. 

Recommendations include:

  • "Thoroughly preparing for an Ofsted inspection from October 2019 by developing a written response to areas of weaknesses, and focusing on developing a strategy which ensures consistent access for students to college-wide services at all sites."
  • "Governors and principal must continue to carefully manage cash flow throughout 2019-20 and monitor the college’s estates plan alongside this." 
  • "As 2019-20 will be the third consecutive year of deficits, the governing body must insist on a break even or better budget for 2020-21."

Stoke-on-Trent City Council 

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, too, had an FE commissioner report published today. It was graded inadequate by Ofsted in June 2019, although its apprenticeship provision being rated as good. 

The council has a small cohort of learners enrolled on study programmes and traineeships and spends more than three-quarters of the council’s £1.175 million funding on adult learners. Adult education is offered at 150 venues throughout the city.

The FE commissioner's report says that the council has “too many boards, committees and other scrutiny groups”, which means that there is no clear line of accountability from the bottom to the top of the service for the education and skills provision. 

It says that the FEC team agrees with Ofsted that council leaders need to urgently improve their oversight of the service. It also highlights “insufficient formal capture of destination data” - and says that tracking and monitoring of this data needs to become routine and embedded.

The report says: ”Tutors need to take responsibility for their own performance and for the learners they teach. For this to happen, a culture of low expectations in a few areas of the provision needs to be overturned.”

However, the report does say that “the poor Ofsted inspection result is beginning to bring about a much-needed revision to the service, with a focus on improving quality and individual accountability, although it is too soon to see the impact.”

Recommendations include creating a clear line of accountability at governance level for the whole service, including adult provision, ensuring better clarity around the capture and collection of data, and quickening the pace of implementing consistent quality assessment procedures.

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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