College funding chiefs have launched an investigation into Basildon College, after "an extremely poor" inspection report and a financial collapse, writes Phil Baty.
The Further Education Funding Council said it was "acting immediately to investigate a number of concerns" and confirmed it had received complaints about the Essex college.
FEFC chief executive David Melville said he was concerned about issues of governance and management that had been raised in the inspection.
He said: "This represents a decline in standards of teaching since the college's previous inspection. The governors and managers have only recently begun to address the real problems of low levels of retention and achievement."
The report, based on a visit last October, found that in four out of the five curriculum areas inspected, provision was "less than satisfactory" where weaknesses clearly outweighed the strengths.
Of 62 lessons observed by inspectors, 18 per cent were judged to be less than satisfactory. This compared with a national average of 6 per cent. Five per cent of the observed lessons were given the lowest possible grade.
Attendance was 70 per cent compared with a national average of 78 per cent. The FEFC said student retention and achievement was poor.
The college was criticised for its governance, management, quality assurance and student support. The report found that although the governors were committed to the college, they had made "limited progress in addressing the long record of poor academic performance". The inspectors also found that the college managers had "failed to remedy key weaknesses identified in the 1996 inspection report" and despite a recovery plan implemented by Chris Chapman, the principal appointed in 1997, recovery had been "too slow".
The inspectors criticised "ineffective monitoring and review of key college policies" and "unclear" roles and responsibilities within management.
Lecturers' union Natfhe said it was also concerned about staff allegations about bullying management and the threat of redundancy faced by a third of the college staff. The union has also called for the resignation of Mr Chapman.
In 1998, Basildon had an income of Pounds 5.3 million and an expenditure of Pounds 5.5 million.