The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) quest for a college to take on London’s £17m prison education contract is to continue past its December deadline, FE Week can reveal.

Welfare-to-work provider A4e gave three months’ notice to the SFA in August that it was terminating its Offender Learning and Skills Service (Olass) contract for a dozen prisons in the Capital.

An SFA spokesperson told FE Week at the time that it was looking to return the contract to a general FE college provider “in good time for handover of responsibility in December”.

But an SFA spokesperson said A4e would continue running London prison education until the end of January.

She said: “To ensure no disruption to the education provision in London prisons, while contractual discussions take place, the SFA is agreeing with A4e an extension on its contract until January 31.

“While contractual discussions continue, due to commercial sensitivities we are not able to disclose any further details until the procurement process is complete.”

The SFA told FE Week in the summer that the three other providers to have won Olass4 contracts — the Manchester College, Milton Keynes College and Weston College — had been invited to “express an interest” in taking on the A4E work in London.

But Dr Paul Phillips, principal at Weston College which provides prison education in the South West England, said at the time that he would not be pursuing the contract.

A spokesperson for Milton Keynes College, which holds the South Central and East Midlands Olass4 contracts, also said it would “not be pursuing the contract”.

The Manchester College, which holds the North East, North West, Kent and Sussex, and Yorkshire and Humberside Olass4 contracts, declined to comment three months ago and did so again on Wednesday (November 19).

An A4e spokesperson said: “I can confirm that we will be continuing as per the SFA has explained.”

She previously said, when A4e gave notice of its contract termination, that delivering the service in London had become “extremely challenging due to a number of constraints beyond our control and which could not have been anticipated when the contract was let”.

It comes just over a year after Newcastle College Group’s Intraining division took on the apprenticeship contract for supermarket giant Morrison from Elmfield, which later went into administration, and nearly two years after West Nottinghamshire College saved more than 100 jobs when it took on apprenticeship providers Pearson in Practice.

Newcastle College struck a similar deal in March 2008 when it acquired Carter and Carter.