Future ‘remains uncertain’ for Central Sussex College, Ofsted warns

Future 'remains uncertain' for Central Sussex College, Ofsted warns

Inspectors have warned that the future of Central Sussex College “remains uncertain”, in a new Ofsted report.

A ‘requires improvement’ (grade three) verdict-overall was returned today on the provider.

Grave doubts about the long-term viability of the college, which had around 3,600 learners at the time of inspection, emerged from the report.

It said: “Since the college’s untenable financial position was discovered in 2013, the progress made by all those involved in ensuring the future sustainability of provision has been very slow.

“The future of the college remains uncertain.”

The warning follows publication of a new Technical and Further Education Bill last month, which set out proposals for a new insolvency regime for FE colleges. The merits of the legislation are being discussed in parliament today through at committee stage.

However, FE Week understands Central Sussex is hopeful insolvency arrangements will not apply in its case, as it is confident of securing its financial position through the Coastal Sussex area review.

The Ofsted report on Central Sussex explained how a cloud of financial doubt had hung over the provider since it “was found to have unsustainable debts in 2013”.

FE Week reported seven months ago that it had announced, on April 15, it would be closing its Haywards Heath campus, formerly Haywards Heath Sixth Form College, in 2017 due to “too high” debt and falling student numbers. This was confirmed in today’s Ofsted report.

The college was £25m in the red, according to a statement found on the college’s website in April, of which £21.4m was a mortgage taken out to cover campus redevelopment between 2008 and 2011. A college spokesperson said today the financial position had not changed.

College principal Sarah Wright said in April: “The brutal truth is that our debts are too high and in order to protect the majority of students and staff, and the wider community, we have to substantially reduce our costs.”

When asked by FE Week to comment on today’s report, a college spokesperson said: “We are pleased that Ofsted recognised many good things about the college including progress on student outcomes, with the vast majority of students achieving their main qualification aim, apprenticeships and a positive, enterprising and respectful culture.

“We accept that the college needs to go further to improve the quality of its provision.

“It is undeniable that the slow progress in resolving the college’s legacy long term debt and the challenge of managing the college in that context has prevented the college from investing in quality improvement.

“We are optimistic that a solution for the college will be in place soon.”

Central Sussex is currently based on two main campuses, one close to the town centre in Crawley and the second in Haywards Heath around 15 miles away.

A small amount of provision is also located at centres at Horsham and East Grinstead.

The college, which received an adult education budget allocation in September of £2,469,333 for 2016/17, faced criticism over teaching, learning and assessment in the Ofsted report.

This was found to be “not consistently good for college-based students, with pockets of weak practice in a minority of subjects”.

Questions were also raised about attendance levels as “too many students aged 16 to 18 miss too many of their lessons”.

The quality of provision for apprentices has, however, “improved and is now good,” the report added.

“Students develop good practical skills in many subjects, including art and design, plumbing, carpentry and motor vehicle,” it added.