‘Battered and bruised’ college now in ‘optimistic place’ despite structural review

Easton and Otley College Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Easton and Otley College Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Leaders at a Suffolk and Norfolk land college say they are upbeat - in spite of a highly critical government report pouring salt on their wounds after two damning Ofsteds.

Easton and Otley College Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Easton and Otley College Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Easton and Otley College has just days to respond in writing to a list of recommendations contained in a Further Education (FE) Commissioner intervention report published on Thursday (February 7).

Skills minister Anne Milton MP has written to the college calling for urgent action to address a number of concerns raised. However, college chiefs stressed that they remain determined to secure the long-term future of the college, now undergoing a full structural review, and plans were already well advanced.

MORE – College set for ‘full structural review’ after Ofsted reportsThe report, which automatically followed two consecutive ‘inadequate’ ratings by inspectors, calls for a “relentless focus” on rapidly improving learner experience, the further strengthening of the board of governors and leadership at the college, and investment in additional expertise “to bring about rapid quality improvement”, while balancing the need to cut costs against “the potentially adverse impact on learners”.

“It is clear from the commissioner’s report that leadership at the college urgently needs strengthening in order to increase the pace of improvements in teaching, learning and assessment and student outcomes,” said Ms Milton.

Easton and Otley College Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Easton and Otley College Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

The review will assess “structural options” for addressing serious concerns about quality and financial viability, she added, as she called on the college to urgently review the performance of its senior management team.

The college, which has now been put in Administered College Status, has to confirm in writing within days what actions it is taking to address the recommendations in the report and its timetable for doing so.

The report raises concerns including a falling roll at the college, which has around 5,000s students and 544 staff, poor attendance, declining income, ‘too much’ poor teaching and over-optimistic forecasts.

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But college chiefs insist that they have already made big inroads in addressing the concerns contained in the report, with a number of actions set in motion in November, when they already had a verbal indication of what the report would contain.

Principal Jane Townsend said they had seen the intervention report before Christmas and much work had been done to deal with specific issues. Four new governors have bolstered the board, two of whom are focused on quality, one on finance and another on business. A further four quality consultants have joined the college to support the quality team.

The college has also been involved in talks with universities and colleges with a view to forming a partnership in order to provide a regional solution to securing the future of land-based education.

Chair of governors Mark Pendlington said the road had been bumpy, but without the upsets, the opportunities they were now looking at may never have materialised.

Ms Townsend admitted that staff were feeling “anxious and concerned”, but felt a regional strengthening through a partnership would help to bolster the college.

“Before Christmas we were feeling battered and bruised, but we have picked ourselves up,” she said, and were now “absolutely throwing ourselves” at securing the right partner.

“To be honest, we are now in a really optimistic place,” she said. “We have huge stakeholder support.”

Ms Townsend insisted the college had done everything that was asked of it, but the frustration had been in the lack of time allowed for the improvements they had made to bed in before the second Ofsted.

Mr Pendlington said the second Ofsted had been a snapshot of what inspectors saw over two days, while to that point, outside bodies overseeing progress saw a different picture.

“To turn around an organisation which has seen a five-year decline in a year is an impossible task,” he said.