AN ‘iconic’ adult education college - faced with financial ruin when the Covid-19 pandemic struck - has been hailed by a Barnsley MP after an Ofsted report praised its remarkable turnaround.

Northern College - based at Wentworth Castle, Stainborough - provides short community learning courses and longer accredited academic and vocational courses that enable students to progress on to further study, higher education or work.

However, its long-term future was plunged into doubt when the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) announced that colleges which delivered less than 90 per cent of their budget allocation faced having their unspent funds clawed back - a worst-case scenario for Northern College.

The facility faced the prospect of paying back an additional £660,000 as they would not hit the 90 per cent tolerance level, falling 17 per cent short, but local leaders came together to secure a better funding package.

The college - which had an average of 4,000 annual registrations before the pandemic struck and resulted in prolonged spells of closure, as well as a slashed take-up - benefitted from the newly-devolved £36m adult education budget (AEB).

In a subsequent inspection by education watchdog Ofsted - which rated the facility as ‘good’, its second-highest category - leaders were praised for navigating Northern College through the pandemic.

Barnsley Central MP, Dan Jarvis, was welcomed by staff for a visit last week having helped secure the better funding arrangement during his time as South Yorkshire Mayor.

Dan said: “Northern College is one of Barnsley’s proudest institutions and the only adult residential college in the north.

“Quite simply, it is an iconic part of Yorkshire’s educational and cultural landscape.

“Institutions like this create opportunities, they contribute to growing productivity and are vital to our future prosperity.

“It was great to meet hear about how the college is ensuring our workforce is equipped to thrive and adapt to the ever-changing world of work.”

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who often arrive at the college with low self-esteem, overcome significant personal barriers to develop their confidence and skills, the report highlights.

Many, the report adds, move onto higher-level learning. Others use the skills and attributes they have gained to enhance their personal lives and the contribution that they can make to their communities.

Most students on accredited courses gain substantial new knowledge and skills, and a high proportion achieve the qualifications that they need to pursue their career goals.

Emma Beal, principal and chief executive, Northern College, added: “We are immensely proud of the work that we do with adult learners.

“Transforming adults’ lives through education is at the heart of life at Northern College and I want to thank all our students, staff and stakeholders for their unwavering dedication to achieving that aim.

“The Ofsted report provides important recognition of the strong focus the college has on ensuring a bright future and embracing change whilst maintaining ‘a culture of care and empathy in an inclusive environment.

“Our focus is on raising aspirations and providing life-changing opportunities that inspire our students to progress in education, employment and their careers.

“It was great to be able to share that with Dan.”