West Herts College has become the first further education institution in the country to receive an 'outstanding' report from Ofsted.

It received top marks from government inspectors, the first to be handed out to a non-specialist college under a new marking system, just as the finishing touches are being made to the multi-million pound redevelopment of its Hempstead Road campus in Watford.

The college was judged as 'good' after its previous inspection in 2005, which was also an improvement on its 2003 report where it was branded inadequate, unsatisfactory and weak.

Paul Joyce, who led a team of inspectors during their visit in March, described West Herts as an “outstanding college that provides high quality education and training”.

Mr Joyce said: “The quality of provision is outstanding. Teachers plan lessons very well to meet individual learners' needs and use a wide variety of teaching methods to motivate and engage learners.”

He also praised the college's range of courses, partnership work with local employers and organisations, and its leadership and management.

In particular, he said the standard of work in hospitality and catering, hairdressing and beauty therapy was “outstanding”.

This year 3,359 learners aged 16 to 18 are enrolled in full-time education, while 225 attend part-time.

There were also 643 adults on full-time courses, with a further2,284 taking part-time studies.

Students are also enrolled on Train-to-Gain courses and work-based programmes.

It currently had four main campuses - in Hempstead Road and Langley Road (which will close this summer), Watford; Hemel Hempstead and Kings Langley - with courses also run from various community venues.

College principal Elizabeth Rushton said the Ofsted inspection team was “pretty forensic”, leaving no stone unturned as they toured each campus, visited classrooms, and spoke to partners and employers.

She said: “The thing we were really pleased about is the inspectors felt we supported learners exceedingly well. They said this college helps to nurture people who are successful, who wouldn't be successful at other institutions. We do give a tremendous amount of care and attention to our learners.

“What we need to do is having found a successful way of managing learners and helping them to be successful, we have got to keep on doing what we're doing.

“We're very, very driven by ensuring our standards are high. That's hugely important to us. That certainly isn't going to change. We won't lose that focus.”

Mrs Rushton said the report “validated” the college's decision to scrap A-Levels and solely offer vocational courses from September last year, following a fall in applications.

She said: “The decision was all around the fact that we do work in partnership with local businesses and local schools did and do offer a very good and wide range of A-Level provision. It wasn't really in anyone's interests to duplicate that. It wasn't really the thing that we should be doing.

“The school Sixth Form experience is more similar to a college experience than perhaps it used to be.”

Mrs Rushton added: “The potential of the new building is something we are really looking to explore. It's going to have these wonderful facilities and that must mean we can offer more to the community.”