Troubled West Cheshire College is generally making insufficient progress to improve, following a critical Ofsted finding last year that it is ‘inadequate’.

The view was reached by Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI) Steve Hailstone after the watchdog made its second monitoring visit to the college following the adverse grade.

The HMI believes the college is making inadequate movement in all the main aspects he considered apart from tackling weaknesses in teaching, learning and assessment, where there have been improvements.

The college itself says it is at the leading edge and provides the highest standards of tuition along with world-class training for businesses of all sizes.

Related story: West Cheshire College branded inadequate by Ofsted

But the inspector says the governors, chaired by former Chester MP Christine Russell, leaders and managers have not made sufficient progress in producing and implementing ‘a clear action plan’ to deal with the areas needing attention identified at last autumn’s inspection. That outcome led to an unsuccessful challenge to the watchdog by the college.

Chairman of governors at West Cheshire College Christine Russell
Chairman of governors at West Cheshire College Christine Russell

'Too detailed'

Although the majority of actions in a revised document are clear and specific, the plan is still too long and detailed and governors and leaders are unable to identify the main priorities for action or to monitor progress says the HMI.

Improving punctuality is one of the areas for improvement but the inspector believes information about the current level of punctuality is unreliable.

Managers’ reviews of the progress being made against the actions in the plan are often over optimistic.

Governors still do not have a clear understanding of the college’s current performance or the progress that leaders and managers are making in tackling key weaknesses.

Too much ‘valuable time’ has been used in producing a very long and detailed assessment report that fails to identify many areas for improvement.

Not enough has been done to improve the ‘rigour’ in monitoring under performing programme areas with leaders and managers making insufficient use of information.

In January they received a report indicating that fewer than two thirds of learners were on track to achieve their minimum target grade but this has not been used to identify actions to improve the progress that current learners are making.

West Cheshire College in Ellesmere Port
West Cheshire College in Ellesmere Port

'Not accurate'

Managers spend too much time completing reviews which are often not accurate.

The college is not meeting its requirement to provide work experience or work-related activity for students on study programmes and too few learners have the opportunity to carry out work placements.

Almost three quarters of learners did not have any work experience planned for this academic year.

The majority of students who need to improve their English and maths skills are on appropriate courses but some have had to join a course that does not meet their intended career choice.

Although leaders and managers have identified actions to improve the quality of careers guidance, insufficient steps are being taken by managers to ensure that learners make good progress.

Aspirational target grades are set for students and most learners are now aware of these but too many teachers are still not monitoring learners’ progress well enough.

Reviews of progress are not frequent enough to ensure that learners make good progress although managers recognise that further improvement is needed.

The progress that learners are making towards their targets is too slow with only one third of students on track to achieve their aspirational target grade.

Low attendance rate

Attendance has improved and learners are clearer about the expectation that they attend lessons regularly although the attendance of too many students is ‘sporadic’ and the overall attendance rate is still too low, particularly on English and maths courses. Managers record absences more rigorously but do not always take sufficient action to improve attendance.

Learners whose progress record indicates that they have a high level of absence are not always identified as being at high risk of withdrawing or falling behind with their work.

Managers should be more visible around the college according to the plan but at the beginning of the day learners who arrive late for lessons are not challenged.

The HMI found that ‘reasonable progress’ is being made in improving the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

Recent measures that leaders and managers have taken have resulted in improvements and teachers are more rigorous in ensuring that learners come to lessons prepared to work and that they behave appropriately.

The inspector believes the learning environment at the Ellesmere Port campus remains ‘inappropriate’ as the design and layout of teaching spaces means that learning is often disrupted by noise from other parts of the building.

Leaders and managers have not taken action to improve this.

Pace too slow

The quality of English and maths remains weak and steps that managers have taken has had little impact so far.

Most activities provide insufficient challenge to learners and the pace of lessons is often too slow with learners often losing interest and making insufficient progress.

The timetabling of courses is not helpful in ensuring that students remain motivated and some maths lessons are over three hours long.

The college has acted quickly to recruit new learning support assistants who work in lessons alongside learners who need extra help but the new team has received insufficiently clear guidance on their role.

The college was graded ‘good’ in 2010.

Acting principal at West Cheshire College Helen Nellist
Acting principal at West Cheshire College Helen Nellist

Helen Nellist, acting principal at the college, commented: “We are working very closely with all our support agencies as well as Cheshire West and Chester Council to help support the necessary and effective improvements currently being implemented here at West Cheshire College.

“Whilst the latest monitoring visit report did not show as much progress as we hoped, it was noted that the quality of teaching, learning and assessment was making reasonable progress.

“We are now working at pace to ensure that the results of our endeavours to improve the effectiveness of the college overall will be clearly visible at our next monitoring visit.”

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