Just five mergers have been proposed in the latest area reviews to have completed – and with one of them already off the cards, parts of the sector are beginning to voice concerns.
Five of the seven wave-three review reports were published by the Department for Education on Tuesday (January 10).
However, the recommendations for the Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire, Cumbria, Liverpool City Region, and North and Mid-Hampshire reviews revealed just five planned mergers involving 12 colleges.
But this figure is outweighed by the 18 colleges to emerge from the process with no firm recommendations for change.
What’s more, one of the proposed mergers – a link-up between Lakes College and Carlisle College – has already been scrapped.
Janet Clark, the post-16 policy specialist at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, hit out at the lack of change.
It’s disappointing that all that money has been spent, and all the stress that it’s caused staff, and nothing’s come of it
“It’s disappointing that all that money has been spent, and all the stress that it’s caused staff, and nothing’s come of it,” she said.
Ms Clark said that former FE commissioner Sir David Collins’ prediction last year that the number of colleges would reduce by a third following the reviews “hasn’t happened”, but conceded that “there’s no way of forcing colleges to merge if they don’t want to”.
Governors at Carlisle College have decided to reject the Cumbria review’s preferred merger option, and will instead pick up previous talks with Newcastle-based NCG.
Mark Stanger, chair of governors at Lakes College, described the abandoned merger as “disappointing for all concerned”.
These latest reports follow long delays to 13 reports from the first two area review waves, which were finally published at the end of November.
These reports resulted in just 21 proposed mergers involving 45 colleges – leaving the same number of institutions planning to remain as they were.
Combined with these new reports, it means that just one third – or 57 – of the 167 colleges involved are so far looking to merge following the area review process.
One of the proposals involves a two-stage, four-way merger in Liverpool which will eventually create a super college in Sefton, while the Black Country review unusually did not propose any mergers.
This new wave of releases means that every report into the first three waves has now been published except for the London reviews.
The capital was split into four sub-reviews, two of which were originally part of wave two. These were later put back in order to coincide with the other two reviews in wave three.
A DfE spokesperson said these reports would be published “in due course”.