College’s inspection grades are on the up

Jacqui Henderson (Chair of Governors) and Stuart Cutforth (Principal and Chief Executive) with students at Northumberland College's Ashington campus
Jacqui Henderson (Chair of Governors) and Stuart Cutforth (Principal and Chief Executive) with students at Northumberland College's Ashington campus

SIGNIFICANT improvement has been made at Northumberland’s biggest training provider, inspectors say.

Northumberland College has been judged “good” in its latest Ofsted report, with outcomes for learners, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and effectiveness of leadership and management all given the same high rating.

It follows a “satisfactory” grade in the college’s previous report in 2009 and comes after changes to the inspection system that place a tougher focus on standards of teaching and learning.

Inspectors said small pockets of provision are weak, such as the discrete Foundation Learning programme, the attendance of some students is still too low and students have not fully developed independent learning skills, relying too much on teachers.

But they found that overall teaching, learning and assessment has improved markedly, while retention rates have improved significantly.

Levels of support for students were found to be excellent and senior leadership and staff were praised for improving the quality of learning and outcomes for students while leading the college through a period of uncertainty.

Principal Stuart Cutforth, who was appointed in November, said: “Northumberland College has much to be proud of in its 11/12 learner success rates, which are the result of staff commitment and the hard work of our students.

“Our Ofsted result is testimony to many factors that have made these improvements possible. This college has rigorous self-assessment processes, a fantastic staff development scheme and a shared desire to achieve high standards for our students.

“Colleges need to respond to change and with increased expectation from students and all of our stakeholders we will continue to develop new ways of working to stay relevant and responsive in our delivery of quality training courses.

“This positive Ofsted outcome is a tribute to the hard work of our talented staff.”

The college operates two main campuses at Ashington and Kirkley Hall, near Ponteland, as well as outreach centres in Berwick, Hexham and Prudhoe.

There are full-time courses for 14 to 18-year-olds, apprenticeships, full and part-time courses for students aged 19 and over, a range of higher education courses and bespoke training for employers.

Inspectors were particularly impressed with Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens, which provides an unusual learning experience for students in animal care and environmental conservation.

The report states: “In 
practical lessons teachers use the zoo, equine unit and estate very effectively to develop a wide range and high level of skills.

“The zoo provides a unique and outstanding facility, where in addition to gaining experience in working with a wide range of animals, students give talks to the general public, developing good social and communication skills.”

Considering outcomes for learners, the Ofsted report highlighted that after a number of years when the long-course success rate was static, it rose by more than 14 per cent in 2011/12, well above the national average, and the percentage of apprentices who achieve their qualification is also above average.

However, the success rate for adult students at advanced level needs improvement and there is too much variety between different subject areas.

Inspectors said the college needs to ensure students can understand and manage targets and learning more effectively by embedding recently introduced systems for progress monitoring, improve discrete provision in Foundation Learning, improve the consistency of feedback, and make sure action plans for the small pockets of under-performance are carried out robustly.

In April last year the college appointed six new governors and Jacqui Henderson as Chairman of Governors.

It also adopted new planning and quality management processes and launched a Leading Learning initiative that sees governors and senior managers play a more active role in college life.