Ofsted report - small is definitely beautiful

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How sad to read of the damning report about Sussex Downs College by the Ofsted inspectors (“Much Work Still to be Done to Improve College” (Express, January 11) with two large departments declared inadequate and the whole college given notice of the need to improve.

It’s terrible news for students and staff: hopefully now the powers- that-be will learn that “bigger isn’t always better”, particularly when it comes to education.

“Small is beautiful” said economist Ernst Schumacher. In education, students benefit from being in a close-knit community where they are treated as individuals; staff also have higher morale if their managers are also academic colleagues rather than remote bureaucrats issuing directives and targets from afar.

In the last decade the Learning Skills Council tried to pressurise Sixth Form colleges to merge with larger General FE colleges, not always in the best interests of students.

It meant that once independent, thriving institutions, like Lewes College and Park College in Eastbourne, became submerged as mere “campuses” within giant multi-site organisations.

The inspectors strongly criticise the lack of collaboration across the college and say there is insufficient sharing of good practice. Surely that was obviously going to be the case when it was set up with four separate campuses in Lewes, Eastbourne and Newhaven?

The problems communicating in such a large conglomerate should have been foreseen.

Multiplexes might work for cinemas but they don’t for teaching and learning!

Of the seven original Sussex Sixth Form colleges, only four managed to survive and there has been a similar level of attrition in neighbouring Surrey.

However, the ones that resisted the pressure for take-over tend to be highly successful and, in fact, have won fullsome praise from Ofsted. The City of Brighton and Hove luckily has two of the top Sixth Form colleges in the country – BHASVIC and Varndean College, while Bexhill College and Collyer’s in Horsham are also thriving.

What a shame not all Sussex students enjoy such choice at 16! Perhaps now is the time to re-establish the independence of other Sussex Sixth Form colleges which were swallowed up during that period of merger-mania.

Al Roberts

Brighton