Exclusive: North London colleges’ merger called off

Exclusive: North London colleges' merger called off

A London merger that had previously gone from a three-way to a two-way is now not happening at all.

Barnet and Southgate College and Waltham Forest College announced plans to join forces in October, after talks with College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London about three-way link up were shelved.

But staff at the two colleges were told earlier this week that the merger had been scrapped.

The news was confirmed in a statement published to Barnet and Southgate College’s website after it was exclusively revealed by FE Week.

It said: “Following lengthy and detailed discussions Barnet and Southgate College and Waltham Forest College have decided to continue their collaboration as partners and not to continue to a full merger at this stage.”

It comes as Bury College was dropped from its planned merger with the University of Bolton and Bolton College.

Consultation on the link-up between Barnet and Southgate and Waltham Forest closed on March 1, with a planned merger date of August 1. 

According to the consultation document, Waltham Forest would have become a campus of Barnet and Southgate College.

The partnership was recommended by both the East London area review, which Waltham Forest was part of, and the West London area review, which Barnet and Southgate was involved in.

According to the report from the east London review, the “merged college will deliver high quality skills training in most of the wider GLA key growth sectors identified as critical for London’s economy” and “would release significant cost savings in curriculum, management and support functions”.

Barnet held onto its grade two rating following a short inspection in November 2015, while Waltham Forest retained its ‘requires improvement’ grade in a report published in January.

As previously reported by FE Week, the planned three-way merger involving CONEL was “shelved by agreement” in October.

The sticking point in those merger proposals had been differing approaches to governance and management, CONEL said in a statement released at the time.

Meanwhile, “a number of issues and complexities” have led to Bury College being dropped from its planned link-up with the University of Bolton and Bolton College.

The proposal was one of just two mergers to have come out of the troubled Greater Manchester area review, which concluded in June – although Bury College’s consultation on the plans took place a year ago.

The university said “after extended consideration of the issues of Bury College” at a board meeting held April 24 it had “decided not to proceed, at this time, with the merger”.

Charlie Dean, Bury College principal, said this decision prompted college governors to reach the same conclusion at a meeting the following night.

He explained that the issue for the college related to a change in the plans from the original proposal, which would have seen the two colleges merging into a subsidiary company wholly owned by the university rather than directly with the university itself.

“The governors did not believe this arrangement would deliver the perceived benefits of the original merger intentions,” he said.

As previously reported by FE Week, Bury College saw its Ofsted rating plummet from ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement’ in February, following its first inspection in a decade.

The merger between Bolton College and the university is still set to go ahead, and spokespeople for both institutions said the plans were “on track and making good progress”.

“We are however disappointed to hear that the opportunity of the wider merger with Bury College will now not be taking place,” a Bolton College spokesperson said.