FE commissioner annual report: Colleges entering formal intervention rises by two-thirds

The number of colleges entering formal intervention rose by two-thirds on the previous year, mostly due to historical “weak decision-making,” according to the FE Commissioner’s 2018/19 annual report.

In total, 13 colleges entered intervention – 12 for financial reasons and one which escalated from diagnostic assessment – five more than the previous year. None were the result of an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted grade.

However, the report states that 17 colleges moved out of intervention last year, meaning the overall number of colleges in FE Commissioner intervention has dropped from 27 in 2017/18 to 23.

FE Commissioner Richard Atkins said intervention cases are “frequently” the result of “poor governance and leadership over a number of years, resulting in weak decision-making”.

But “we are making progress”, he insisted, as many of those moving out of intervention were “the most challenging cases – where the restructuring facility has resolved problems that were previously very entrenched”.

The report only covers August 2018 to July 2019. Since then a number of high-profile colleges have moved into formal intervention; these include Highbury, Gateshead, Richmond-upon-Thames and East Sussex College Group.

Following the end of the post-16 area reviews, Atkins’ focus has shifted more towards diagnostic assessments: the commissioner’s team conducted 33 diagnostic assessments in 2018/19, four more than 2017/18.

These assessments include members of the FE Commissioner team visiting a college before major problems arise to “help strengthen improvement plans and then work with the college to ensure it is on the path to a strong and sustainable future”.

The increases in interventions and assessments has been met by a rise in the number of national leaders of further education and national leaders of governance under his command.

It was announced last month the commissioner had almost doubled the number of principals and governors serving on the two teams by recruiting leaders and governors from colleges such as London South East Colleges, Luminate Education Group, and Education Partnership North East.

One area where commissioner activity has decreased is structural reviews, which reduced from 20 to 13, with Atkins attributing it to the government’s restructuring fund no longer being available.

The report also details how 74 per cent of eligible colleges had applied to the £15 million Strategic College Improvement Fund and 91 per cent of applicants have secured grants ranging from £60,000 to almost half a million pounds.

In his introduction to the 2018/19 report, Atkins said: “There is a much more positive perception of further education colleges today than was the case some time ago.

“The increases in funding announced in August 2019, together with the success of the ‘Love our Colleges’ campaign have increased awareness of the sector and helped to create a more optimistic climate within institutions.”