A record-breaking 10 partnerships involving 21 colleges have been made official today – making this the single busiest day ever for mergers.

But that figure could have been much higher: at least seven further link-ups that had been set to go through today – the first day of the 2017/18 academic year – were held up at the last minute.

One of the more controversial new partnerships sees Lewisham Southwark College become the fifth college member of NCG Group.

This long-distance merger provoked concerns earlier this year from its home London borough council, Lewisham, which was unhappy that its local college was joining a body based 300 miles.

But the merger was enthusiastically welcomed by both parties today.

Joe Docherty, NCG’s chief executive, said he was “delighted” to welcome the college, which most recently received a grade three from Ofsted.

“Lewisham Southwark is a significant college in central south London, and will continue to serve the needs of its local community,” he said.

Carole Kitching, the college principal, echoed his words, and said the merger would ensure “we remain a local college serving the needs of our communities in central south London whilst enjoying the benefits of being part of a highly successful large group”.

Another eyebrow-raising merger involves Mid Cheshire College and Warrington Collegiate, which now form Warrington and Vale Royal College.

Troubled Mid Cheshire recently received its second ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in the space of 15 months, and is subject to a financial notice of concern from the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Warrington isn’t in a particularly strong position either after it received a ‘requires improvement’ rating last February.

Today has also seen further consolidation for other London colleges, with the creation of the South Thames Colleges Group, formed through a three-way link-up between grade three Carshalton College, grade two Kingston College and grade three South Thames College.

The group will be led by Peter Mayhew-Smith, the current principal of Carshalton and Kingston colleges.

Meanwhile, grade three Harrow College joined grade one Uxbridge College, and City of Westminster College merged with College of North West London, both of which are rated ‘good’.

Grade four Tresham College and grade two Bedford College also merged today to form the Bedford College Group – just six months after it was first proposed.

The new group will be led by Ian Pryce, who has been in charge at Bedford since 1998.

Other partnerships to be finalised in the past 24 hours include one between debt-laden grade three Central Sussex College and grade one Chichester College.

City College Coventry and Henley College Coventry, both rated ‘requires improvement’, have formed Coventry College, and will be headed up by former Guildford College principal Peter Brammall.

Grade two Great Yarmouth College and grade three Lowestoft College formalised their existing federation, already known as East Coast College, into a formal merger, and will be led by Stuart Rimmer.

South Downs College, rated ‘outstanding’, has also officially joined grade two Havant College in the only merger involving a sixth-form college.

Meanwhile, a last minute hiccup meant that the long-overdue merger, originally planned last August, between grade two South and City College Birmingham and grade three Bournville College should now go through later this week.

Other partnerships which have been held up include that between Telford College of Arts and Technology and New College Telford, both rated grade three, Canterbury College and East Kent College, both rated ‘good’, and St Helens College and Knowsley Community College, both rated ‘requires improvement’.

Two further mergers involving SFCs were originally scheduled for today – grade two Southport College and grade three King George V College, and Sunderland College and Hartlepool SFC, both rated ‘good’.

A link-up between adult and community learning provider Hillcroft College and Richmond Adult Community College is also delayed.

Julian Gravatt, the deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Colleges across the country have been working together to ensure they provide the right training and education opportunities for their local communities,” which had led to “a number of mergers over the last year” with more to come.

“Colleges have an important role in society, are judged against high standards and operate in an area where the rules and policies change at short notice – it is not particularly surprising that their merger plans also change,” he added.

FE Week has been unable to confirm whether two further mergers, involving South Tyneside College and Tyne Metropolitan College, both grade two, and grade three Accrington and Rossendale College and ‘outstanding’ Burnley College, went through as planned. 

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