Minister to visit centre proposed as new FE college

Minister to visit centre proposed as new FE college

Skills minister Nick Boles has agreed to visit a Kent skills centre following an invitation from the local MP who proposed the site as a potential new FE college.

Mr Boles accepted an invitation to visit the Swale Skills Centre in response to a parliamentary question from Gordon Henderson, Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, on December 15.

Mr Henderson told Mr Boles in the House of Commons that “Sittingbourne is the largest town in Kent without its own FE college”.

He added: “However, we have a unique opportunity to change that. May I invite the Minister to visit the Swale Skills Centre in my constituency to learn about how, with the right help, it could easily and cheaply be extended into a small college?”

Mr Boles replied: “I would be delighted to visit my honourable friend’s constituency. We do not hear the opposition celebrating when new institutions open, including the Swale Skills Centre.”

Clayton Laker, head of the Swales Skills Centre, declined to comment on current funding arrangements for the centre.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Swale Skills Centre is funded by the EFA [Education Funding Agency], but as it is part of Sittingbourne Community College it’s funding allocation isn’t reported separately.”

Sittingbourne Community College was allocated £1.18m 16 to 19 funding for 2015/16 by the EFA as of October.

Other local FE providers include MidKent College’s Maidstone campus and Canterbury College, which are 14.6 miles and 16.6 miles from the skills centre respectively.

A Kent County Council spokesperson confirmed that the local authority had agreed to attend a meeting where the possibility of the centre becoming a general FE college could be discussed.

When questioned on the visit, a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson told FE Week that full details of the visit “have not yet been confirmed”.

She added: “The Kent area review is scheduled to commence in November and will consider how the current post-16 institutions can best meet the needs of learners and employers in the local area.

“It will include a consideration of the location of institutions, the curriculum they offer and the travel to learn patterns for students in the Sittingbourne area.”

Mr Boles visited Essex in August 2014 to mark the “milestone” transformation of Prospects Learning Foundation in to the first new FE college in more than 20 years.

Former Skills Minister Matthew Hancock had confirmed five months earlier that Basildon-based charity Prospects Learning Foundation was to become an FE college. The move was exclusively revealed by FE Week in July last year.

The former independent learning provider was renamed Prospects College of Advanced Technology (PROCAT) and Mr Boles, who was appointed as Minister that July, spoke at the opening ceremony.