New culture of 'openness and trust' paves way for KCC merger

An embattled London college has announced it will officially merge next month, after the FE Commissioner found a new culture of “openness, transparency and trust”.

Kensington and Chelsea College will join with Morley College on 3 February.

The resolution follows a governing body meeting last night, and the outcome of Richard Atkins’ final monitoring visit at KCC, which took place on 30 October 2019.

“Yesterday’s decision was a landmark in the continuing upturn in fortunes for the college”

KCC has been subject to close oversight since late 2017 after serious concerns were raised in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire by the local community regarding a proposed merger with Ealing Hammersmith and West London College. This merger was later blocked by the FE Commissioner.

Campaigners were particularly concerned about the loss of KCC’s Wornington Road site, which was controversially sold for £25.3 million to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 2016.

The college has since undergone changes in leadership and secured £32.3 million from the government to help buy back the campus that serves the Grenfell community, and move ahead with a merger with Morley College.

The FE Commissioner’s latest report on KCC states that there has been a “notable and tangible improvement to the atmosphere and culture across the college”, and its operations are “well led giving a sense of calm in the build up to merger”.

Staff, whilst “understandably anxious” about the merger, talked of a “culture of openness, transparency, accessibility and trust in relation to the board and the senior leadership team”.

They also commented that having an agreed future for the college, together with a commitment to financial support, was “instrumental in providing staff and students with a sense of optimism about the future.

“Planning for the merger is progressing well despite significant complexities and challenges that have mainly been overcome.”

Whilst recognising that the college is making “good progress”, Atkins’ team noted there is “still much to do”.

KCC is “financially inadequate” after recording a deficit of just under £6 million in 2018/19. It is expecting to reduce this to a £2.8 million deficit by the end of 2019/20. The college has no borrowings and still has cash in the bank, the FE Commissioner said.

His team added that governors and senior managers have taken action to significantly reduce its cost base this year.

Whilst this still leaves a large deficit, it “does slow down the erosion of cash through operations and does not include any actions that are contrary to the Morley College London merger proposal”.

“I have been humbled by the passion and determination of campaigner”

KCC received its fifth consecutive grade three report from Ofsted last year.

Ian Valvona, who joined as chair of KCC in 2018, said yesterday’s board decision was a “landmark in the continuing upturn in fortunes for the college and the communities it serves in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy”.

Andy Cole, the college’s principal who also joined in 2018, added: “I am immensely proud of my staff who have remained committed to improving the opportunities and outcomes of our learners in the face of the most challenging of circumstances, and it is heartening to see this reflected in the FE Commissioner’s report.

“Throughout the past two years I have been humbled by the passion and determination of campaigners who have fought so hard to preserve the best of the college’s rich history for the benefit of future generations and wish to place on record my respect for their work both before and subsequent to the tragic events of the 14th June 2017.”

A spokesperson for Morley College said their governing body is now preparing “for its meeting on 20 January when we give final consideration to the resolution to merge”.

A spokesperson for the Save Wornington Campaign group said they will do “everything in our power to ensure that this college stays open for our community”.

“Morley College are showing genuine commitment to the project and we welcome that,” she added. “We will hold them to account and ensure that they are honouring North Kensington and the Grenfell legacy.”