A learning and skills service is celebrating after Ofsted inspectors awarded it a "good" rating - with praise for its support for Ukrainian refugees.

The education watchdog graded Darlington Borough Council's Learning and Skills Service, which provides adult and family learning, study programmes, apprenticeships and diplomas, as good in all areas.

The service was inspected in June when it had 340 learners - 234 adults on distance or community learning programmes or studying English and maths qualifications, 58 apprentices and 48 young people on education programmes.

Read more: Reforms could have a 'significant impact' on Darlington Council

Oftsed's report said: "Learners and apprentices learn in a calm and welcoming learning environment where they feel valued and respected. Teachers are caring and very supportive.

"Learners and apprentices quickly settle into their learning with the support of their tutors. Tutors spend time getting to know their learners, which enables them to understand and anticipate potential challenges and provide learners with good support and encouragement."

They said learners and apprentices participated well in training sessions, respected each other, were motivated to learn, were confident asking questions and gained valuable knowledge."

The report said employers valued the "off-the-job training" provided by tutors and "the professional way in which apprentices apply their newly acquired skills and behaviours in the workplace".

Read more: Inspector tells residents in waste plan inquiry - 'I get it'

It added: "Leaders and managers have developed a range of courses which successfully meet the needs of the diverse communities living in the Darlington area.

"Adult learners gain valuable skills... and communicate more effectively as a result of their courses.

"On completion of community learning courses, a high proportion of adult learners progress into further learning or secure and sustain employment."

They said managers designed relevant and accessible courses, focused on developing students' independence, building their confidence and enhancing their employability, with personalised learning and support.

Many young learners were given work experience opportunities, though post-pandemic progress had been slow, and managers used small classes and one-to-one support to overcome anxieties and challenges.

Read more: Objectors to incinerator plan say 'still a very firm no'

Referring to Ukrainian refugees, the inspectors said: “Adult learners who have recently entered the country as refugees from war-affected countries are supported well to learn English.

“Learners on ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) courses who are newly arrived in the country develop new friends and support networks which helps them to settle more easily and feel valued.”

The inspectors said learners felt safe as the service had effective safeguarding arrangements and dealt with concerns swiftly.

They concluded the service, which has bases at the Coleridge Centre, Bennet House and Lingfield, needed to improve some planning of students' learning, work experience opportunities and tutors' training.

Read more: Developer criticises 'toxic reception' to waste centre plan

Learning and skills manager Alaine McCartney said: "The ‘good’ Ofsted judgment is testament to the staff’s hard work and commitment to ensure every learner, apprentice, employer and partner receives a high-quality learning experience.

"We are very proud of the achievement but know the hard work doesn’t stop here as our journey is about continual improvement, innovation and reaching outstanding."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Jon Clarke. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.Cllr Jon Clarke. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.

Councillor Jon Clarke, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Learning & Skills provides a valuable service to people in Darlington from all different walks of life and of all ages. I am delighted that its hard work and commitment to education and developing skills has been recognised.

“It is never too late to learn and gain new skills and I would advise anyone who has ever thought about returning to education or boosting their skills to get in touch.”

Read next:


​What are your views on the Ofsted report? Why not leave a comment on this story. Go to the top of this story and leave your thoughts. 

If you want to read more great stories, why not subscribe to your Northern Echo for as little as £1.25 a week. Click here.