DfE reopens £15m strategic college improvement fund before finalising first round

Colleges are being invited to bid for cash in a new round of the strategic college improvement fund – but it’s unclear how much is left in the £15 million pot.

A pilot for the SCIF was run last year in which 14 struggling colleges shared £2 million (the winners of which can be found here).

The Department for Education then reopened bidding in June for the first official round, but the winners from this haven’t been finalised yet, leaving it unclear how much of the remaining £13 million has been used up.

Despite this, the DfE has today launched another tender round for new bids. A spokesperson said this was to ensure colleges have enough time to submit their expressions of interests.

This will mean more opportunities for people to access high-quality education and training

The SCIF was created to allow struggling colleges, with the support of a stronger institution, to gain extra cash to help them improve in specific areas.

“I’m thrilled to invite even more colleges to apply for funding from the SCIF,” said skills minister Anne Milton.

“By working together with top colleges, they will get the support they need to make sure their learners get the very best education and training. This will mean more opportunities for people right across the country to access high-quality education and training.”

Applications for stage one of this second round are due by December 3.

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), which is a group of seven leaders from ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ colleges.

Colleges will be told by January 11, 2019 if they’ve made it through stage one.

Many colleges are now harnessing the best practice that exists within the sector

The DfE said it expects to launch a third round of applications in “winter 2019”.

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.

Sixth Form Colleges Association chief executive Bill Watkin said: “The SCIF has already made a difference to several colleges and the students who attend them, with its focus on identifying where needs are and how those needs can best be met.

“We are delighted that round two has been launched and highly recommend that colleges take this opportunity to work with each other to raise, and sustain, standards across the sector.”

Deputy FE commissioner SCIF lead Teresa Kelly added: “It is very exciting that the SCIF has been taken up so positively by the sector and is proving to be a significant tool for quality improvement in colleges.

“Through the SCIF many colleges are now harnessing the best practice that exists within the sector and applying proven best practice in order to improve the quality of their offer and provision.”

The list of successful colleges and their partners from the first application round will be published later this month, the DfE said.