Loss of land colleges would be 'tragedy', Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk warns following second damning Ofsted report
PUBLISHED: 09:22 23 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:18 23 November 2018
It would be a 'tragedy' to lose our rural-based colleges, Suffolk's Lord Lieutenant has warned in the wake of the publication on November 12 of a second damning Ofsted report for Easton and Otley College.
Speaking after opening a pioneering new facility at the college’s Otley campus, Rural Enterprise East, which it is hoped will help unleash a new wave of rural entrepreneurs in Suffolk, the Countess of Euston said it took time to turn things around as she strongly backed the college’s leadership.
“It would be a tragedy to lose our rural-based colleges. It’s almost more important now than every before with Brexit and everything else, that we really support farming and the rural economy and I’m delighted with the opening of Rural Enterprise East because it will focus people on what a big issue it is,” she said.
She said she was “very concerned” about the situation, and felt inspectors had not allowed enough time before reassessing the college. “That’s an absolute nonsense in my view,” she said. She encouraged college supporters to write to their MPs “to say we need this”, as she pointed to the social and educational issues which needed addressing in the county.
“Rural deprivation and poverty is a huge issue for Suffolk and here is a way of addressing those problems, so what’s the sense in closing this wonderful establishment down?” she said. Raising the Bar, an initiative aimed at raising educational standards in Suffolk which was launched four years ago, had taken time to bear fruit from a situation that had been “pretty dire”, she pointed out.
Support for college
At a well-attended launch of Rural Enterprise East, a number spoke in support of the college and its leadership under principal Jane Townsend and chair of governors Mark Pendlington.
“How lucky we are to have Jane and Mark leading at this moment in time - we really, really appreciate it,” Lady Euston told those gathered at the launch.
“I see in Suffolk one of the fastest-growing and most successful economic areas in the UK, but I also see a lack of aspiration among many young people,” she said, adding that rural isolation was a “terrible thing”. In this ‘centre of excellence’ the organisations involved had created “something very special”, she said.
“You are sending out the message loud and clear that our rural economy is open for business,” she said. The centre would help would-be entrepreneurs “make the very best of themselves”. “What could be more important for the future of Suffolk?” she said.
Principal Jane Townsend admitted it had been a “very difficult few weeks and months”, but thanked the many people who had sent messages of support to the college, saying she was “excited” at the opening of the new hub, which it is hoped will encourage a new generation of rural entrepreneurs and innovators to boost a rural economy still suffering from the closure of many of its shops and facilities.
Chair of governors Mark Pendlington said it was a “significant and important day” for the college in its bid to help rural industries to develop and grow.
“This hub, which is the first of its kind, is going to be the magnet,” he said. “That means action, that means progress, that means positive things happening,” he said.
The centre, under the leadership of Digby Chacksfield, who previously headed up Eastern Enterprise Hub in Ipswich, which closed in July, would be “a hub of activity for many, many people”. He called on the many organisations gathered at the event to get behind the initiative.
“We do need your help. We have decided to launch today to show you the potential that’s here, ask you to go out there and talk up Otley College, the potential of this place, and we’ll not let your recommendation down,” he said.
Farmer David Nunn, who sits on the board of governors and is chair of Suffolk Agricultural Association, said he was “disappointed” at the latest Ofsted report. “We know the hard work going on behind the scenes with Jane and the team and this is just a distraction to what her day job is,” he said. “She’s doing a tremendous job in turning the college around.”
The farming community would be “in a muddle” in a few years’ time without the next generation of workers coming through, he warned.
“I think everyone has to be supportive, because Suffolk is a rural community,” he said.
Ben Underwood, director of Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East, said it was important that the industry feeds into the educational process at Easton and Otley, and lets it know what skills it needs. It needed to come together in support of the college. “We need these sorts of facilities,” he said.