Confederation ends after a year

The Gateshead and Middlesbrough College Confederation has been terminated after just 12 months.

The two colleges came together in September last year to pool resources and ideas, but are now preparing to split after governors decided the partnership did not “offer additional value to learners”.

The move casts doubt over the future of confederation chief executive Mike Hopkins, who is also chair of the Principals’ Professional Council, with Zoe Lewis having replaced him as Middlesbrough principal after the colleges joined forces.

Both colleges declined to comment on what role, if any, Mr Hopkins would play at the colleges in the future. A joint statement from Gateshead College chair Robin Mackie and Middlesbrough College chair Bob Brady said: “Having undertaken a review we are in agreement that while we have seen some benefits, we do not feel that this arrangement offers additional value to learners at either college at this time. The two colleges remain firmly committed to the principles of working in partnership where it has clear benefits for our students, staff and stakeholders.”

The statement added that the confederation had been formed to “explore collaborative approaches which could benefit both colleges”. During that time we have worked together on a number of projects which have enabled us to secure funding for a joint technology initiative, share best practice and offer combined student projects,” the statement added. It continued: “We are unable to say anything further with regards to Mr Hopkins at this time as discussions with him are ongoing.”

The end of the confederation was made public in minutes from a September 24 Middlesbrough College board meeting where it was revealed that “both parties had agreed to mutually terminate” the confederation agreement on September 10 this year.

In a press release issued at the time the confederation was formed, a spokesperson for the colleges said: “Those behind the move believe the colleges’ combined size, scale, vision and influence will make them more resilient to future challenges and both will benefit from a more regional perspective enabling them to deliver a responsive and comprehensive offer to North East businesses and the wider community.”

It added that the colleges would “work far closer, sharing ideas and collaborating on initiatives that will ultimately deliver even higher standards of training and skills provision”.

The move comes after the FE Commissioner David Collins told three struggling colleges — Bicton College, Norton Radstock College and Stratford-upon-Avon College — that they should join forces with other colleges as they might not survive on their own.

Devon-based Bicton has since revealed plans to merge with The Cornwall College Group by August, while the commissioner’s revisit to Stratford resulted in new hope for its independence after positive feedback from Dr Collins.

Mr Hopkins was not available for comment.