OFSTED’S highly critical report came as no surprise to relative newcomer Kate Roe, who realised there were problems at Darlington College soon after she took over as principal eight months ago.

In an exclusive interview with The Northern Echo Ms Roe said: “A lot of the things in the Ofsted report are not a surprise. We do self-assessment every year and we knew there were weaknesses.”

A former senior local government administrator, Ms Roe was attracted to the job of principal of one of the North-East’s biggest and most modern FE colleges because of her interest in developing the skills of the next generation.

She now knows she has her work cut out to achieve her objectives.

Even before the inspection by a nine-strong Ofsted team in mid-February the college’s senior management team had been working on action plans to address the weaknesses already identified.

While it came as a shock to be demoted from the highest Ofsted rating to the lowest the principal believes the report will act as a catalyst to trigger rapid improvements across the board.

She is particularly looking forward to working closely with Ofsted as part of the recovery programme being put in place.

“We very much welcome that we will have extra support from Ofsted in the coming months. We will have a senior inspector who will come and work with us. They will challenge us but also support us and the plan is to improve standards,” she added.

While Ms Roe said the college “needs to take it on the chin, learn our lessons and move on” she said she was heartened that Ofsted had found some good things to say.

“While we know we have weaknesses we also know that we have lots of areas of good practice and our success rates in those areas are public knowledge.”

The principal acknowledges that the highly critical report will have a demoralising effect on staff but she feels sure they will pick themselves up, roll up their sleeves and make the necessary improvements.

“A blame culture is not going to be helpful. Overall what we need is a mixture of support and challenge. We need to support people to improve but we are going to turn this around.”

Ms Roe said it was generally accepted that educational establishments were facing tougher assessments by Ofsted.

She said it was encouraging that Ofsted had recognised that action has already been taken by the board of governors.

“Apart from what we are doing within the college we are going to bring in some external support to challenge us and to help us to improve. We are looking for senior people with a proven track record,” she added.

Ms Roe said the college needed to do more to improve teaching across the board with particular emphasis on supporting the college’s English teachers.

“The Government has raised the bar on English and maths and that is absolutely right. We are taking extra steps to embed English and maths in all that we do,” she added.

As part of efforts to provide more strategic direction for the college the board of governors is to undergo a “governance review.” There will also be more frequent board meetings.

As part of the changes the long-serving chairman of the governors Darlington College, Alasdair MacConachie, is stepping down.

In a statement Mr MacConachie, who is also chairman of the Darlington Partnership, said: “I have initiated a rapid improvement plan, secured external support to provide challenge and support and have worked with the management team to refresh the governance.

“I believe this now needs to be taken forward with a fresh approach and now is the time to stand aside as chair. I will continue to support the college in any way I can and I believe the college has a critical role to play in the future economic growth of Darlington.”

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, Darlington's lead member for young people, said: "The Ofsted judgement is a bitter disappointment. As a newly appointed governor I will work with board colleagues, the new principal and staff to encourage rapid and sustained improvement. Learners and their families deserve nothing less."