Bids reopen for £13m strategic college improvement fund

Colleges can bid for the remaining £13 million from the strategic college improvement fund using newly released guidance.

The first round of the fund was launched last year, when 14 struggling colleges shared £2 million.

Today’s announcement invites struggling colleges, supported by a stronger institution, to ask for money to help them improve in specific areas.

The fund will “enable colleges to access resources that they need to improve their provision for students, including the best practice of other colleges, while at the same time mobilising and strengthening improvement in the FE sector”.

It’s a two-stage process, and applications for stage one are due by July 27.

To be eligible, FE and sixth-form colleges must be rated grade three or four either for overall effectiveness or in any of a number of headline fields, including outcomes for learners, and leadership and management, in their most recent Ofsted inspection report.

A recently merged college will be eligible to apply if at least one of the pre-merger institutions meets this criteria.

The area of improvement must have been identified during a recent Ofsted visit, a diagnostic assessment carried out by the FE commissioner, or another commissioner intervention.

They must have a “suitable approach for addressing this need” and “have the capacity and capability to deliver the improvement activities that they’re proposing”.

The college will be expected to work with a stronger partner, which will use its expertise to bring about the changes, but they do not need to have identified a partner for stage one.

Partners could be – but do not have to be – a college headed up by one of the National Leaders of FE (NLFE).

These are a group of seven leaders from ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ colleges.

Colleges will be told by August 24 if they’ve made it through stage one.

Those that make it through to stage two will be given “support from sector experts” to develop their applications in more detail.

The deadline for stage two applications is September 21, with a final decision due by October 15.

The SCIF is one of a number of new initiatives intended to support colleges at risk of failing before they hit rock bottom.

Other measures include the NLFE programme and the FE commissioner’s diagnostic assessments which help struggling colleges identify areas where they need to improve.

The FE commissioner Richard Atkins told FE Week that his overall aim with these initiatives is to “try to avoid the catastrophe we’re seeing at the moment at one or two colleges” by supporting them at an earlier stage.

The skills minister said that the fund will “enable colleges to work together to improve standards across all colleges”.

“We want to improve the quality of education for everyone. It is vital that all further education and sixth form colleges are able to give people the skills and knowledge they need to get on in their life and succeed in the workplace,” said Anne Milton.

Mr Atkins said the fund “offers a great opportunity to harness the capacity within the sector”.

Bill Watkin, the chief executive of the Sixth-Form Colleges Association, said the fund “represents a real opportunity to benefit from a well-structured and well-resourced quality improvement programme”.

And David Corke, the Association of Colleges’ director of education and skills policy, has “long called for a peer improvement scheme for further education to match the one in schools” and is “encouraged by the opening up of the eligibility criteria to allow more colleges to apply”.