College may close after QAA and Ofsted criticism

September 3, 2004

The People's College, Nottingham, set up by philanthropists almost 160 years ago to provide education for the working-class "sons and daughters of toil", this week looked increasingly likely to close.

The threat to the college's future follows a damning report from Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate earlier in the summer that was backed up by a report from the Quality Assurance Agency, which found "no confidence" in the academic standards of a higher national diploma course.

Brian Elgie, a college spokesman, when asked this week if he was confident about the college's future in the face of a review of further education in the Nottinghamshire area, would say only: "We are all moving forward, and we are doing everything possible to address the issues that have been raised."

The college was set up in 1846. It played a key role in the creation of Nottingham University by helping to set up its 1880s predecessor, University College Nottingham.

It has established itself as an associate college of both De Montfort University and Nottingham Trent University, and today serves about 10,000 students on a budget of £15 million.

In June, the college received one of the worst inspection reports ever published - with Ofsted and the ALI condemning seven of its 11 curriculum areas. Five curriculum areas were branded unsatisfactory, with two others graded "very poor".

Leadership and management were also judged to be unsatisfactory. "Managers have failed to ensure that all students receive satisfactory value for money," the report says.

To add insult to injury, the local Learning and Skills Council made it very clear after the publication of the report that it expected John Rudd, the principal, to stand down.

David Hughes, LSC director for the East Midlands, was reported to have said: "We are very concerned about a situation where the principal, who has been in post for many years, appears to have failed to accurately assess the quality of learning provided by the college."

The following week Mr Rudd resigned.

This week, the QAA compounded the misery by adding a damning public judgement on the quality of the college's higher education provision, as well as its further education courses.

In an academic review report, the QAA declares it has "no confidence" in the academic standards of People's HND in music technology.

The reviewers report "having serious doubts about the integrity of the assessment procedure". They say marking and grading are not consistent.

The report found in one case that a student with a mix of grades of pass, merit and distinction was given an overall "merit", while "another candidate with the same mix of grades" was awarded a "distinction". But there were no published marking criteria and no formal record of the decision-making process.

But the report gives the college some hope. The QAA praises it with the highest possible "commendable" judgement for every other aspect of the course - the quality of teaching and learning, of learning resources and of student progression.

On the quality of teaching and learning, the QAA says in its report: "There is considerable evidence that the teaching is effective in enabling students to achieve the programme aims.

"The subject staff are knowledgeable and effective teachers, their teaching is thorough, comprehensive and has currency."

Mr Elgie said: "We have had positive discussions with the QAA over the matter, and we are working with the QAA to bring the course back to perfection. We were surprised by the overall result and were very pleased with the commendables."

Nigel Jackson, director of strategy for Nottinghamshire Learning and Skills Council, said that the council had concluded after a "strategic area review" that there were too many general further education colleges in Nottingham. "The message is clear, the current configuration of four colleges in the city does not provide adequately for the learners. There is over-competition and inefficiencies."

Mr Jackson said that the council was looking at a number of options, including merger or takeover plans, and would make formal proposals later this month, which would be subject to consultation. "It is fair to say that the People's College, given its very poor Ofsted report, will feel nervous," he said.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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