Nacro, the crime reduction charity took on Southampton’s struggling Totton College after the Education Funding Agency (EFA) paid a sum, believed to run into millions of pounds, to the Hampshire local authority in order to write off the sixth form college’s pension liabilities. Noel Johnson believes this highlights college favour over independent learning providers (ILPs).

Once again we see the inequality between colleges and independent learning providers (ILPs) highlighted.

To pay an undisclosed amount to the local authority, believed to be in the millions of pounds, in order to settle a failing college’s accounts, cannot in any way be justified, and it will be viewed and felt all the more severely by the sector, particularly at this time of further, significant, funding cuts, delays and uncertainty about payments for additional apprenticeship starters.

Further to this, what deal has been reached in relation to the assets of the college? Do these remain in public ownership or are they a gift to Nacro?

What is the current value of the college estate, and what is the total cost of this package to privatise Totton College?

Nacro has also announced the deal involves them taking on a £2m commercial loan. Is the EFA supportive of such a level of borrowing within a private training provider (albeit a charity) at a time of significantly reduced funding?

If a college wanted to take over a failing ILP, the EFA and Ministers would not have stepped in to make such a generous financial gesture

It’s unlikely that this information will be shared publicly. This is clearly a decision that was made by senior staff within the EFA, with approval from Ministers, but is it the right decision and, ultimately, the right fit?

Nacro has a very specific demographic and although it has worked hard to improve from its previous inadequate Ofsted grade to its current good rating, for which it should be commended, does it have the skills and experience to manage a sixth form college that requires significant improvement having gone from requires improvement to inadequate.

Does Nacro have the level of reputation within the FE sector to provide learners, parents and employers with the confidence to use Totton College, Because there is a real and present risk of learner migration at this time of uncertainty, and neighbouring colleges and learning providers will look to capitalise on this transitional period, and rightly so — this is a field of aggressive competition created by government to drive up quality, eradicating poor provision.

Had this been reversed, and a college wanted to take over a failing ILP, the EFA and Ministers would not have stepped in to make such a generous financial gesture.

It would, as we have seen before, been left to close, moving learners to alternative provision in the same area.

Or does this precedent now guarantee bailout for ILPs?

If the decision had been made to move learners to other, better suited colleges, and ILPs in the region, surely this would have strengthened provision in the area, at a time of increased competition in a sector plagued by a decreasing demographic and funding cuts.

This would have further helped to secure the future of the remaining provision and more importantly, providing a better standard of provision for learners.

Would DfE money not be better used now, within the FE sector, offsetting the previously announced cuts and developing the much-needed skills required to re-build our economy?

There is no doubt we will see more ILPs closing as a result of the current funding cuts and subsequent reduction in sub-contracted provision from colleges and large providers and we know that there will be no rescue package to avoid this taking place, regardless of quality.

There can be no justification for this level of money being used to pay off this college’s accounts, rather, the EFA’s involvement would have been better spent supporting the board of governors to attract an outstanding education leader to the college, with remuneration to generate interest, at a significantly lower cost to the taxpayer, and protecting this public asset.

This bailout for a failing college — a college that’s had the opportunity and support to improve — is reprehensible and should be thoroughly investigated. There are still a lot of unanswered questions.