College created to train future HS2 engineers branded 'inadequate' by inspectors

A college formed to train the next generation of engineers for the HS2 project has been given a damning assessment by education inspectors after it had attempted to block the publication of the report by launching a High Court action.

The National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure (NCATI), which has campuses in Doncaster and Birmingham, has also been placed into 'supervised' status after the Further Education Commissioner (FEC) found that it is facing insolvency.

Formerly known as the National College for High Speed Rail the college, which opened to students in 2017, was rated as 'inadequate' - the lowest grading - in November last year.

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The Ofsted inspection found managers and staff did not act quickly enough to protect apprentices from harassment and that safeguarding arrangements were ineffective.

Clair Mowbray CEO of NCATI, at its launch. Credit: HS2 LtdClair Mowbray CEO of NCATI, at its launch. Credit: HS2 Ltd
Clair Mowbray CEO of NCATI, at its launch. Credit: HS2 Ltd

“Staff did not prioritise the welfare and safeguarding needs of the apprentice over the needs of others in the class,” the report added.

The college’s senior staff had sought legal advice, stating the Ofsted inspection process and overall grade was “flawed,” and launched an ultimately doomed bid in the High Court to block the publication of the Ofsted report, which has been now been published this week.

“The grade is inconsistent with other external assurance we have received,” an NCATI spokesman said.

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“We are disappointed that our achievements and progress have not been fully recognised by the recent Ofsted inspection, and the grade given has serious implications for our ability to continue to serve our learners and industry.”

In addition to the Ofsted report the FEC, which works with colleges to improve their quality and financial resilience, visited last month.

Its findings include calling for radical changes to the way in which the college is run and questioned the decision of agreeing to "significant" legal costs to challenge the Ofsted outcome.

The body, part of the Department for Education, also added that there is “no credible plan in place” to resolve the issue, and that “without a commitment of 12 months of continued emergency funding,” the college would not be able to operate.

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The main reason for this, according to the report, is a shortfall in apprentice numbers, something the college has blamed on the recent uncertainty over the future of HS2.

The college said despite facing financial challenges from factors “outside of the college’s control”, including delays to HS2, its training was imperative after the Prime Minister gave HS2 the go-ahead.

“The recent announcement on HS2 and the government's plans for further infrastructure investment means that the skills delivered by the college are needed more than ever,” the NCATI spokesman added.

However Michelle Donelan MP, Minister for Universities, said the current operation model for the college is "unsustainable" and called for improvement sweeping change.

“It is clear that the college faces significant financial challenges and is unsustainable unless structural solutions are sought out as soon as possible,” she said.