Deputy FE Commissioner to take the reins at college surviving on bailout money

Struggling City College Southampton will have a new principal from July

Struggling City College Southampton will have a new principal from July

18 May 2022, 15:24

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A college surviving on emergency bailout funding has appointed a deputy FE Commissioner as its next principal.

Martin Sim (pictured) is set to take on the job at City College Southampton in July.

He’ll take over from Sarah Stannard who is leaving after almost nine years at the helm to work as the new director of education in the Falkland Islands.

Stannard has been highly critical of the Department for Education and FE Commissioner’s handling of a city-wide review of Southampton’s FE provision, which was launched almost two years ago.

City College Southampton hopes the review will result in a much-needed merger to ensure its survival after seeing multiple attempts fall through due to its perilous financial position.

Sim has been parachuted in to turn-around five other colleges since 2017. Most recently as interim chief executive at Nottingham College.

He said City College Southampton has experienced “challenging financial times over recent years, but it has talented students supported by committed staff and governors”.

“This provides the foundation on which to demonstrate that the college is a strong and vital partner in any future solution,” he added.

Geraint Davies, chair of City College Southampton, said the college is “very fortunate to have secured such an outstanding candidate, who brings with him a successful track record of working with colleges facing significant challenges, and delivering quality outcomes for students, staff and the wider community”. 

He added that the college is “eagerly awaiting the outcome of the education minister’s review of the provision for FE in the Southampton area” and he is “confident that City College will have an integral and purposeful part to play in the implementation of the preferred solution”.

The FE Commissioner’s team, including Sim, visited Southampton in December 2021 and reported that City College is surviving on emergency money, which has reached £8 million, from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The funding is due to run out by February 2023.

The college’s first proposed merger was with Southampton Solent University, as recommended in the FE Commissioner’s 2016 area review. However, this was rejected by the DfE in February 2018, because of “concerns about the suggested governance model and value for money”, Stannard said previously.

Following a “rapid” structure and prospects appraisal, supported by the ESFA and the FE Commissioner and concluding in June 2018, City College selected Ofsted grade two Eastleigh College as a merger partner.

The ESFA pulled funding for this move days before it was due to be completed, just as Stannard was preparing to step down in favour of Eastleigh’s then principal, Jan Edrich.

Without the government’s support, Eastleigh withdrew from the merger.

Sarah Stannard

A later proposal to merge with neighbouring Ofsted grade three Itchen Sixth Form was also rejected by the ESFA in September 2020, owing to what it called “too much uncertainty” around the merged college’s financial viability.

Ofsted rated City College Southampton as ‘requires improvement’ last month, in a report which said “external decision-makers” have failed to resolve questions on the college’s financial position and this has slowed leaders’ progress in improving its quality of education.

Stannard will take up her new role in the Falkland Islands in September 2022.

She said City College Southampton will be a “wrench to leave”.

“However, working and living in the Falklands has been a long-held ambition of mine since I visited the islands in 2008 and 2012,” she added.

“When the opportunity arose to become director of education in the Falkland Islands I felt that this was the right time to move after nine fulfilling years leading City College.”

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One comment

  1. James Priesting

    So, yet another College from the Aktins Era – Put in with ‘support funds’ – and not put into educational administration (how much has that cost the tax payer so far – £6m in fees according to recent ‘government’ papers). Why has this man not been held to account. Turning around colleges with people on £700 a day is good work for those that are in the pocket of the FE Commissioner. Why has there not been an independent review of the FE Commissioners and ESFA policies since 2016? All of that money could have been put into skills; investment and supporting colleges, rather than the bullying and harassment approach of Atkins and his team.