Atkins offers 'confidential' support in light of Covid-19

The FE Commissioner has offered “confidential” support to any colleges struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Richard Atkins reassured the sector in a webinar hosted by FE Week last Saturday that formal intervention would not be triggered if colleges seek assistance during the current crisis, and urged principals not to make any “rash decisions” such as redundancies.

FE Commissioner intervention visits and “non-critical” Education & Skills Funding Agency intervention have been suspended until further notice, as confirmed by the Department for Education in guidance released this week.

Atkins said that he was “very keen to extend” consultations to any college that wants to “sound out” members of his team.

He added there had “never been a more important time for the sector to come together”.

When asked how the intervention system will adapt to recognise financial challenges colleges may face over the next six to 12 months, the commissioner said his team had been working with the DfE and ESFA to undertake “a range of modelling work”.

Atkins admitted that “at the end of this difficult time, a raft of colleges will face specific difficulties”, including commercial and international income, residential accommodation, real estate, mental health and wellbeing.

He urged college principals to “hold together that senior team, to communicate frequently and regularly with their staff… and not to make any rash decisions or rash judgments”.

Atkins noted that a range of colleges may have been considering restructuring but warned they needed to take advice, stating that his team could help with an “early conversation” about the implications.

He said National Leaders of Governance have already been working with college chairs across the country in mentoring and support roles.

Atkins stated: “We’re all going to be facing problems over the next few weeks that we’ve never faced in colleges, both in terms of welfare and health but also in terms of financial stability. I’m very keen to provide whatever support we can and to make it absolutely clear that we are not carrying out any form of assessment.”

He confirmed that a daily phone call has been taking place between the ESFA’s local teams and colleges “as a way of checking on the stability and the issues that are facing them”.

Atkins also extended support to local authority adult education services, which the team has previously worked with on quality issues, but said he was unable to do the same for independent training providers due to a lack of expertise.

The FE Commissioner called on colleges to keep subcontractors “very much in the loop, and communicate with them as frequently as they can”.

The FE Commissioner’s team and National Leaders of Governance can be contacted via email on FEC.OPERATIONS@education.gov.uk.