England’s biggest college group plans to downsize putting 300 jobs at risk

Up to 300 jobs are on the line at England’s largest college group, after it announced plans to close its two private training providers.

Staff at Intraining and Rathbone Training, which are part of NCG, are being consulted on the redundancies.

The providers currently train 4,500 learners between them, of which two-thirds are apprentices. Some could be forced to find alternative providers if the centres do end up shutting.

Last year, FE Week reported that staff numbers were being cut by up to a fifth, from 500 to around 400, at the providers in an effort to save £3 million. Intraining had already shed more than a third of its 1,200-person workforce back in 2015.

But the staff-cutting efforts do not appear to have been enough to save the providers.

“We have today opened consultation with Intraining and Rathbone staff on some fundamental changes to the way in which we operate in England, including the closure of our network of training centres and a radical refocussing of our apprenticeship proposition,” a spokesperson for NCG said.

“Intraining and Rathbone accounted for less than 20 per cent of group revenue in 2017/18. The changes we are proposing will strengthen NCG’s already robust position, supporting our ambition to invest in teaching, learning and facilities.

“The unfortunate effect of these proposals would be substantial redundancies in Intraining and Rathbone. We will confirm our future plans once the consultation has concluded.”

The spokesperson confirmed the providers currently employs over 400 people across 19 centres, and 300 jobs were now at risk.

He said that moving forward, it will “put the interests of learners first and support them to finish their programmes wherever possible”.

“If we proceed as currently proposed following consultation, we will in future operate a single, smaller, digitally-enabled business focussed on delivery of high-quality apprenticeships for the tech, management and professional occupations,” the spokesperson added.

NCG, which is chaired by former Education and Skills Funding Agency chief executive Peter Lauener, has ran into trouble in recent years.

Achievement rates across the group fell way below the national average in 2016/17, staff at its colleges in London went on strike in a row over pay last year, and a free school that the group sponsored, the Discovery School, was forced to close down by the government.

All this happened before Ofsted downgraded the group from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’, which triggered intervention from the FE Commissioner.

Earlier this month NCG told FE Week it expects the commissioner’s team to carry out a “diagnostic visit” as a result of the grade three, and while he has “not yet visited”, the group expects this to happen “before the end of the academic year”.

As well as FE Commissioner intervention, it is expected that NCG will be dropped from the government’s final bidding round for Institutes of Technology as a result of its grade three Ofsted rating.

Following the turbulent year, NCG’s principal Joe Docherty decided it was time for him to resign in October.

As revealed by FE Week earlier this month, the college group has paused recruitment for a new chief executive until the Spring, after its initial hunt proved fruitless. Instead, they will focus efforts on “improving standards” as it awaits a follow-up visit from Ofsted following the grade three rating in June.

NCG comprises Newcastle College, Newcastle Sixth Form College, Lewisham College, Southwark College, Carlisle College, Kidderminster College, West Lancashire College, Rathbone Training and InTraining.