Area review completion delays drag on as new six month target missed

Area review completion delays drag on as new six month target missed

At least three of the seven regions involved in the first wave of post-16 education and training area reviews have already overrun the extended government target for completion, FE Week has found.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) initially advised in September that post-16 education and skills area reviews should take three to four months to complete — then extended this to four to six months in a second guidance document published in March.

At the time of going to press, three areas which held their first steering group meetings in September and early October had now passed the six-month deadline.

A number of principals involved blamed the hold-ups on the unexpected government announcements during this time that sixth form colleges (SFCs) could apply for academy status and that a restructuring facility was to be made available to fund area review recommendations.

Chris Thomson, principal of Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC), which is part of the Sussex area review, told FE Week: “We didn’t know anything at the start about academisation of sixth form colleges, which is a pretty key thing.

“We didn’t know anything at the start about a restructuring fund — again another really key thing. So clearly if you bring things like that on half way through a process it will lengthen it,” he said.

The Sussex area review, which began on October 22, was due to have held its final steering group on February 29, but this has been put back twice and is now scheduled for May 16, Mr Thomson said.

Steve Frampton, principal of Portsmouth College, an SFC in the Solent area, which had its first steering group meeting on November 5, spoke of his frustration at not having all the information needed at the start of the process.

“It is clear the whole process was launched prematurely in my view, and this has resulted in excessive workloads for both sides,” he told FE Week.

Another college principal in the Solent area told FE Week that the final steering group meeting for her area had been delayed from late April to early June.

And FE Week understands that only the Birmingham area review, which began September 18, has held its final steering group meeting.

A total of 50 FE colleges and 33 SFCs are involved in wave one of the area reviews, covering Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Tees Valley, Sussex, the Solent and West Yorkshire.

The announcement over SFC academy status was first made by the Chancellor during the spending review in November, and guidance was published on February 19.

BIS published guidance on the restructuring facility on March 1, two weeks after it had been reported by FE Week.

A BIS spokesperson said guidance on both had to be published after the start of the area reviews, as it had been dependent on the outcomes of the government’s spending review in November.

“It is right that each steering group should take the time needed to make sure that they can gain the benefit of these important initiatives,” she added.