Colleges, FE Commissioner

Embattled adult education college under ESFA supervision

DfE to attend Northern College board meetings as uncertainty remains over the college's future

DfE to attend Northern College board meetings as uncertainty remains over the college's future

20 Jan 2023, 10:00

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The FE Commissioner has warned that “uncertainty remains” over the future of the much-loved adult residential Northern College after it was moved to “supervised status”.

Northern College in Barnsley, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, was placed in formal intervention by the commissioner following visits in February and March 2021, with question marks over its financial viability.

At the time the commissioner warned of a “perfect storm” amid a legal dispute with the government over clawback of wrongly awarded funds, concerns over future adult residential funding, and a shortfall in enrolments.

A series of conditions were imposed over the college’s operations in a subsequent financial notice to improve.

In an update this month, the college was placed under “supervised status” because of ongoing uncertainty over its finances.

College oversight guidance issued by the FE Commissioner states that a college in intervention can be placed under supervised status because of a failure to meet significant milestones, where risk levels escalate, or where recovery is considered to be too slow.

The college was told to appoint an interim finance director, develop a fully costed curriculum plan, develop contingency plans on solvency pressures and complete a structure and prospects appraisal and local provision needs analysis.

Those conditions were satisfied but the latest notice imposes further conditions and the college must now keep the Department for Education informed of changes to senior leadership, financial commitments above £30,000, and ownership of property assets or structural changes.

A observer from the DfE’s territorial team will also attend all board meetings. Northern College, which has been open for almost half a century, provides intensive residential courses in areas like digital skills and healthcare, as well as access to higher education qualifications and other programmes.

The original intervention was made after the Education and Skills Funding Agency demanded repayment of £2.4 million in residential uplift support it said the college owed for learners who were not resident.

The college also fell short of enrolment targets for adult learners, which the college blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving it at risk of further clawbacks.

In August 2021, FE Week reported that the college had negotiated the £2.4 million clawback down to £1 million, secured three years of funding for residential provision from the South and West Yorkshire mayoral combined authorities and agreed for the college to remain standalone.

The college declined to comment on the latest intervention notice.

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  1. George Trow

    This is such a pity, Northern College is a jewel in the sector, with outstanding Ofsted grades but the support given for adult education funding has caused this problem . We really should not lose this College

    • Jonathan Herbert

      George – Given present day funding limitations for Adult Learners, and that the additional £2.4m has obviously been spent, in your opinion, could the funds initially forwarded by ESFA be the true cost of providing an Outstanding Adult Education service?