The Department for Education has suspended its new College Collaboration Fund to “help colleges focus on their staff and students’ welfare” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Planned pilots for a governor recruitment scheme and board performance audits have also been paused.

The £9 million collaboration fund was first unveiled last month and will allow bids of up to £500,000 to be submitted by groups of colleges to “share good practice and expertise”.

The 12-month programme is supposed to run during the 2020-21 financial year, with the deadline for the first round of applications set for 8 April 2020.

But announcing a suspension of the process today, the DfE said: “We will be adjusting the timescales for the governance pilots and the college collaboration fund (CCF) to help colleges focus on their staff and students’ welfare.

“We are exploring flexibilities within CCF to support colleges in developing good practice on maintaining delivery.”

The Association of Colleges has also said applications to the grant scheme have been suspended until further notice, as providers mobilise against the Covid-19 outbreak.

The DfE is yet to say when applications will resume.

The pilots being paused are worth over £200,000 combined.

One, the ‘FE Colleges Governor Recruitment Services Pilot’, will include at least 30 “effective leaders” being recruited as chairs, deputy chairs, and finance and audit chairs for colleges in “the greatest need of help”.

The other pilot is for around 30 board “capability reviews”, which would also be run at struggling colleges referred to the supplier by the FE Commissioner or the ESFA.