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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 04:03 GMT
From inadequate to outstanding
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

Sir Andrew Foster in college kitchen
Sir Andrew has spent a year honing his recipe for college success
Sir Andrew Foster launched his report on England's further education system in a college judged "inadequate" three years ago but now satisfactory or good and "outstanding" in one area: hospitality.

As he was addressing journalists and representatives of the sector in one room, students were working yards away in the kitchens preparing meals for Westminster Kingsway College's restaurant and brasserie, which are open to the public.

Among the dishes on offer: chicken consommé with tapioca, small chicken quenelles and tarragon followed by sautéed scallops and wild rice risotto or calves' sweetbreads with Norfolk carrots and meaux mustard jus.


The college is typical of many in its sheer scale: 19,000 students annually, of whom two-thirds study part-time, enrolled at six centres across two central London boroughs.

About 15% are aged 16 to 18, more than three quarters are over the age of 21.

college principal Andy Wilson
Andy Wilson: skills focus while retaining lifelong learning vision
It recruits a high percentage of students from disadvantaged areas and has a significant number for whom English is an additional language.

The Foster Report spoke of the ongoing failings of some 10% of colleges, and for the sector to focus on increasing the nation's skills.

Westminster Kingsway's current principal, Andy Wilson, said there were "some real issues" with the current inspection framework.

It concentrated on individual learners, but not the needs of employers - the new single focus.

'Needed to be done'

Was it helpful to be given a deadline to improve or face being taken over, possibly even having private management?

"I think you can overdo the threat, but a poor inspection report can focus the mind," he said.

Students develop a high level of practical skill and produce menus and service levels of a professional standard
Inspection report
His college's "inadequate" rating - before his time there - was "an extremely uncomfortable and difficult period for the college, but it needed to be done", he said.

What was needed was support and examples of good practice.

"The single thing that turned this college around was having a decent self-evaluation system."

The Foster Report supports this approach. During his inquiry, Sir Andrew visited the US and was impressed by "the strong emphasis on self-regulation and lack of top down control" on community colleges there.


As for working with external partners, Andy Wilson said his college does that all the time anyway with employers and different private training providers.

And increasingly it fulfils what he calls a brokerage role.

For example, public administration is a strength but as well as such things as information technology skills it includes road construction, so he might need to work with a centre that specialises in that.

The Foster Report advocates a greater role for specialist colleges, and the reputation that Westminster Kingsway has illustrates how that can operate not just on a local or regional but national level.

Its intake also shows the extent to which colleges give people "a second chance".

Students' stories

Student Ben Arnold always wanted to be a chef. When he asked chefs at home in Belfast where he should train, Westminster Kingsway was recommended.

"Better than what I expected," is his judgement after the first two months of term.

Katayun Sethna did science A-levels and left home in Lincoln to study science at Glasgow University.

Katayun and Selin literally changed course
But she too had always wanted to be a chef and feels a lack of advice at school pointed her in the wrong direction. She dropped out of university after two terms.

Similarly Selin Kiazim studied art and graphics at A-level and went to Middlesex University to specialise in interior design.

She realised it was not what she wanted to do. She had always liked cooking and, encouraged by friends, applied to the college.

Luciano Barrow was more focused, perhaps not surprising given that his father is a head chef and his brother is a chef.

He worked with them for a few years but his father recommended he come to Westminster Kingsway to get industry-recognised qualifications.

Assuming he gets them, he plans to work in industry for a few years then start his own business.

He will have, as Sir Andrew says, a passport straight into work.

As a younger learner, Chris benefits from funding priorities
John Ellison from Surrey was told by family and friends to go into catering because of his fascination with cooking but was unsure of his own ability.

"I'm not the brightest of students, as academic studies go," he admitted.

He tried doing A-levels, then working in a supermarket to earn some money, before deciding "to give in and do what I was good at".

These students also talked about one area not explored in detail in the Foster Report, although Sir Andrew recommends listening more to what learners have to say.

They all felt there were loopholes in the system of student support, with priority going to university undergraduates - not only in official circles but, for example, in special offers from banks.

Only one, Chris Dodd, is getting assistance because he was under 18 when he began the course.

He said he paid £15 - basically just an administration fee - for the whole year.

The others said they all faced course fees of £1,300 per year - payable in advance.

It was, John Ellison said, a shock when he realised this.

As a result, part-time jobs to try to make ends meet are commonplace.

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