Farm opinion: Why we should support Easton and Otley College after Ofsted setback

Chair of governors at Easton and Otley College, Mark Pendlington Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Chair of governors at Easton and Otley College, Mark Pendlington Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A bombshell hit the farming communities of Suffolk and Norfolk this week with the publication of a second damning Ofsted report on Easton and Otley College 17 months on from the first.

It’s a devastating blow to those who have been striving behind the scenes to get the college back on track, delivering a first class education to our future farmers, rural entrepreneurs, and agricultural professionals and specialists.

This region desperately needs a specialised land-based educational institution which can vie with the very best agricultural universities and colleges in the country in providing top-class training and knowledge. The two counties contain some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial farmers in the UK, and they deserve to be underpinned by a thriving and creative educational base.

The college’s leaders know this, and believe they have put in place the structure they need to achieve it. But the effects of change can’t be felt overnight. There’s no shying away from the task in front of the college: of eight headings in the Ofsted report, the college was still inadequate in five at the time of the inspection in October. It makes for uncomfortable reading, but it is based on a snapshot in time - not the whole story.

Frustrated leaders point out that students were just a few weeks into the term, and there were new staff to train and a new management team only recently put in place. The improvements made had yet to be felt, they argue.

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Chair of governors Mark Pendlington and principal Jane Townsend say the college needs more time for the good work done so far to show. They point out that, in a year when the institution has been under rigorous and constant assessment, none of the experts who came in suggested that they weren’t taking the right decisions in the circumstances. They remain determined to see the job through. Easton and Otley has suffered a second damaging blow with this report, and it is unclear now what the future holds as it steers a course through the difficulties that creates. What it has in its favour is strong support from the communities it serves - and a very determined leadership. What it needs now is a show of that support, to demonstrate to government officials that this institution is very much wanted, and very much needed.

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