Sheffield College jumps to top of national table

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Sheffield College has been named as one of the top performing colleges in the UK, according to statistics which reveal an 11% jump in success rates over the last two years.

The news – greeted with delight by managers – marks a huge turnaround for the college, which only 13 years ago was foundering at the bottom of the national table in terms of performance.

“We are committed to becoming an outstanding college and this is a significant milestone towards achieving that goal,” said chief executive Heather MacDonald. “I am absolutely delighted with the progress that’s been made and I would like to congratulate all of our staff and our students on this fantastic success.”

The college was the largest of its kind in Europe when it was set up in 1992, an amalgamation of six further education centres around the city.

But the unwieldy structure led to problems and in 1999 the college was put into special measures amid heavy criticism of its management, its finances and its service to the community.

The damning report threw the institution into upheaval, condemning its framework as being too big, too inefficient and too top heavy to be effective.

Troubleshooter Sir George Sweeney was drafted in to conduct an in-depth review, concluding that urgent restructuring was essential.

Things began to look up in 2000 when John Taylor was appointed to oversee radical restructuring and begin putting the college back on track by reshaping both staff and services.

His first move was to divide the college into three main centres: Norton in the south, Castle in the city centre and a new Hillsborough college in the north.

They were to work on a federated basis, as three semi-autonomous colleges within a common framework.

There were around 170 redundancies, but the arrival of three new centre heads marked a new beginning and the four-year recovery plan quickly surpassed its annual targets.

Since then there has been consistent improvement in educational standards and solid economic growth.

The launch of a Peaks College at Waterthorpe and a new central campus off Granville Road marked another landmark in the college’s recovery, as did the appointment of current chief executive Heather MacDonald in 2008.

The latest figures, compiled by the college annually as part of a performance review, show the overall student success rate is 84% – up from 77% in 2011 and 73% in 2010. This represents the proportion of students who finish their course with a recognised qualification.

Managers put the boost down to several factors, including a scheme to improve motivation and retention rates, and a new raft of tutor mentors who offer one-to-one support to students.

“Our tutor mentors are excellent role models. They help young people achieve their potential, support them to become independent learners and equip them with the confidence to find solutions to barriers that may inhibit their progress to ensure they commit to success,” added Ms MacDonald.

A series of open evenings is planned on March 18 (City), 19 (Peaks), 25 (Hillsborough) and 26 (Norton).

For details see www.sheffcol.ac.uk or call 0114 2602600.