The Department for Education has slashed the College Collaboration Fund (CCF) by more than a third as it reopens for applications.
The total pot on offer sat at £9 million when the fund was launched by education secretary Gavin Williamson in February, but this amount has now dropped to £5.4 million.
In confirming the reduction, the DfE told FE Week they have had to take some tough decisions and reprioritise planned activity in order to respond to new and developing priorities as a result of coronavirus.
The first round of the CCF was cancelled in March due to the pandemic. It reopened for applications today to “support FE colleges to respond to the current challenges around quality improvement and capitalise on good practice, including that developed through new ways of working”.
Eddie Playfair, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: “We are delighted that the CCF is able to go ahead.
“The fund is very welcome in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for the college sector to navigate unprecedented rates of change to every aspect of their work.”
Groups of colleges can bid for grants of up to £500,000 but they will be expected to match at least 25 per cent of the total cost of the programme of work.
However, the DfE said today it may waive a proportionate amount of match funding contribution where a college is in formal intervention with Education and Skills Funding Agency, as asking for a contribution would “undermine a college’s financial viability”.
The minimum application has increased to £100,000 from £80,000. Each submission will need a lead applicant college with an ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ Ofsted grade and at least one other “improvement partner” college.
Merged colleges without an Ofsted rating can still apply, as long as one of the two previous colleges meets the criteria.
Each proposed programme of work must address at least one of the fund’s three “quality improvement themes” identified by DfE: quality of education, financial and resource management, and leadership and governance.
The 12-month CCF follows the Strategic College Improvement Fund – which ended last year after £12.3 million of the £15 million up for grabs was used to help 80 colleges rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ team up with better performing colleges.
Williamson previously said the new fund is needed because there “have been examples where colleges haven’t been getting it right and things that we are not comfortable with have been going on”.
“We mustn’t forget that is a minority,” he added. “Where we have got good we want to make them excellent, where we have got average we want to make them good and then to excellent, and where we have poor we want to make sure that they are actually really achieving the very best on that.”
Applications to the CCF must be submitted by 28 June 2020 and colleges will be notified about the outcome after 10 July 2020.
All colleges that receive the funding must complete their activities from it by the 31 March 2021. Successful colleges will receive payment of their grant by 18 September 2020.