Future looks bright for Tresham College

When Tresham College was branded inadequate by Ofsted in 2016, it couldn't get much worse.

Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 1:11 pm
Georgina Ager has responsibility for the Tresham College sites in Northamptonshire.

But fast forward to three years on from the damning report and things are looking up at their campuses in Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby.

They merged with The Bedford College Group in 2017 and a £10m refurb of their Wellingborough tower block is set be finished in time to open in September.

They also have a new woman at the helm after vice-principal Georgina Ager took on responsibility for the Northamptonshire sites in August.

An artist's impression of the refurbished Wellingborough campus.

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We met her at the Kettering campus in Windmill Avenue to discuss the college's grand plans and she said they have come a long way.

She said: "Tresham has been through quite a challenging time. But we've made lots of improvements in terms of quality, student experience and progression.

"We've already made a lot of changes and now it's continuing that."

And they hope their improvements will be recognised by Ofsted shortly. The college group was inspected as a whole - the first inspection since they merged - by the education watchdog two weeks ago with a result expected in the coming weeks.

Tresham's Kettering campus from afar.

Ms Ager, who formerly worked at South Essex College and for local government, hopes to increase what's on offer at the college.

From September the group will have 19 different programmes ranging from construction to catering and music to motor vehicle technology.

Currently prospective students in Northamptonshire - aged between 16 and 84 - are offered mainly vocational courses ranging from level 2 (GCSE at C or above) to level 5 (foundation degree or equivalent) as well as professional qualifications and post-grad teacher training.

Anyone wanting to turn their level 5 into a level 6 - the equivalent of a degree with honours - currently has to go to Bedford to complete a top-up course.

The Wellingborough campus is currently an eyesore.

But Ms Ager revealed they hope to offer the same provision in Northamptonshire "within the next five years" as well as expanding their range of level 4 and 5 courses.

And A-Levels - which were controversially dropped from its syllabus in 2016 - look set to make a return with a new, separate sixth form building run by Tresham College.

Ms Ager said: "We definitely want to bring back A-Levels and we're hoping to bring back A-Levels as soon as 2021.

"We just need to find a suitable venue at the moment but we definitely have aspirations to set up an A-Level provision like we've got at the Bedford sixth form."

Where the building would be is not yet known but it will be in either Kettering or Corby.

The college is also set to pilot the new T-Level qualifications, high quality technical qualifications designed by employers.

Kettering and Corby have typically had more investment than Wellingborough with new Tresham campuses since the turn of the millennium. But that is set to change.

In 2016 bosses decided not to build a new Wellingborough campus and started demolishing part of the Church Street site.

Only a handful of motor students have remained there, with some others based at nearby Croyland Hall, but from September more than 1,000 eager pupils will once again be based slap bang in the town centre.

A £10m project to refurbish the eyesore tower block - with £7.5m from Semlep and £2.5m from the college - is ongoing with a shiny new exterior soon set to be in place.

Ms Ager said: "It probably doesn't look like we've done as much as we have done at the campus.

"We've been refurbishing the tower block and some of the existing buildings and remodelling the tower block.

"The idea is that it's all being reconfigured so there's more open areas, more student areas where people can socialise and cafes.

"The biggest difference will be when the cladding goes on. That's going to happen shortly."

When it opens there will be a broad range of courses on offer, including general courses and adult provision, but there will be a big focus on construction.

Ms Ager said the new site will have a 'massive impact' on the town.

In 2018 the group - which employs almost 1,000 people across its campuses - received £40.5m in funding body grants.

But Ms Ager called for more to help their further education (FE) offer.

She said funding was 'very tight' and that she feels it should be increased.

She said: "We would like FE to be funded fairly.

"Colleges find it very tight to deliver."

When Tresham College merged with The Bedford College Group there was a fear that there could be a loss in local accountability.

Ms Ager said she doesn't think that has happened - and urged the community to work with them and build partnerships.

She said: "We've got really strong governance. When the colleges merged we've had one corporation from the start and we have some excellent governors.

"Some are local to north Northants but I'd always say that we would like some more.

"We'd like to work with the local community in terms of planning and designing our curriculum, or having visiting speakers coming in, or industrial work placements.

"There's all sorts of things we would like to work with the local community on. It's important that the community drives our curriculum."

But how far can Tresham go? Ms Ager believes it has the potential to be an outstanding college.

She said: "I think Tresham has a great buzz. We have a great college here."