Troubled Essex college set for merger rescue

Troubled Essex college set for merger rescue

A college that was told a year ago that it couldn’t survive on its own has announced plans to merge, following a second hunt for a partner.

Grade three Epping Forest College, which has been in administered status since March last year, is set to join forces with New City College from August 1, according to an announcement on its website.

It will become the fourth member of the group, alongside Hackney Community College, Tower Hamlets College and Redbridge College.

Neither college has yet responded to FE Week’s request for a comment. It’s not yet clear when consultation on the proposed merger is set to take place.

FE commissioner Richard Atkins and his team visited Epping Forest in January last year after it was rated ‘inadequate’ across the board by Ofsted in November 2016.

That intervention led to it being placed it into ‘administered’ status, as a result of “emerging financial challenges” and “serious governance problems”.

This was followed by a structure and prospects appraisal “owing to the significant instability still facing the college”.

According to the college’s 2016/17 accounts, the process concluded with a firm recommendation that the college merge as “its prospect as an independent corporation was not sustainable”.

Epping Forest has three notices of concern from the Education and Skills Funding Agency and a financial notice to improve, all issued last year.

The first notice of concern, for inspection, was issued January 9, and the second and third arrived in March, for ‘administered’ status and for its apprenticeship minimum standards.

The fourth notice, for financial health, was issued in December after the college was rated ‘inadequate’ for its financial health in 2016/17. It ruled that the college must agree a plan to “achieve a merger by August 1”.

The college had announced plans to merge with Barnet and Southgate College last summer, but that proposal fell through in the autumn, according to a college spokesperson.

Ofsted recently returned to the college and rated it as ‘requires improvement’ overall and in seven out of eight headline fields, in a report published March 29.

Hackney Community College and Tower Hamlets College joined forces in August 2016.

The merged college formally changed its name to New City College in February the following year, ahead of the merger with Redbridge College on April 1.

The group had an income of £57 million in 2016/17, according to its accounts.

If the planned merger with Epping Forest College goes ahead it will have a combined turnover of £70 million, and 11,750 learners.