Seven FE and skills providers have been told by Skills Minister Nick Boles that their FE Commissioner interventions have come to an end, FE Week can reveal.
Letters confirming the conclusion of Dr David Collins’ involvement with the five colleges and two local authorities were published before Christmas and earlier this month, after being sent to the providers between September and November.
They were Stoke-on-Trent College, Guildford College, New College Nottingham, Weymouth College, the Marine Society College of the Sea, Norfolk County Council, and Wandsworth Borough Council.
The Skills Minister’s letter to 15,000-learner Stoke-on-Trent College, dated October 26, marked the end of an intervention which began in November 2014, when Dr Collins was called in following concerns by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) over the college’s finances.
Sarah Robinson, chief executive at the college (pictured above left), said: “The report reflects the FE Commissioner’s confidence that the college is financially able to sustain its improvements and services to the local community in the future.”
A notice of concern from the SFA was also the trigger for a visit to Guildford College by one of Dr Collins’ advisers in August 2014.
His report on the 9,476 learner college, which was rated as ‘requires improvement’ following its last Ofsted inspection in July, highlighted cash flow for its planned capital programme as the “key risk” facing the college.
Mr Boles’ letter to the college, dated September 10, confirmed that the college had addressed the necessary improvements to end the FE Commissioner’s involvement.
Dr Mike Potter, principal of Guildford College Group, said the college had “valued the support of the FE Commissioner and his team in helping the college through a period of great change”.
In his letter to Norfolk County Council, dated October 26, Mr Boles said that he was “heartened” by the action taken by the council to improve its adult education service.
The FE Commissioner’s visit to the 11,500-learner service in April came after it was branded inadequate by Ofsted in March.
Richard Bearman, chair of the Norfolk County Council Adult Education Steering Group, said: “I welcome the recognition that our improvement plan is working.”
Mr Boles’ letter to Wandsworth Borough Council, also dated October 26, confirmed that Dr Collins’ intervention at the council’s lifelong learning service, which began in February following an inadequate Ofsted rating in January 2015, had ended.
A spokesperson for the council said: “We’re obviously pleased that with the support of the Commissioner we’ve been able to raise service standards up to the desired level within such a short period of time.”
In a letter dated November 17, the Skills Minister confirmed that Weymouth College was no longer in administered college status.
As previously reported by FE Week, Dr Collins’ involvement at the 4,000 learner college, which improved its Ofsted rating from inadequate to good in December, began in March 2014 following SFA concerns over its financial health.
Nigel Evans, interim principal at Weymouth (pictured above right), said: “We’re happy that we’ve come out of administered status and delighted to be a good college. We want to do the right thing.”
In his letter to New College Nottingham (NCN), dated November 4, Mr Boles confirmed that the FE Commissioner’s intervention at the college had ended in recognition of “progress against the recommendations made as part of the original assessment [by the FE Commissioner’s team] and “on the basis that the college has decided to merge with Central College Nottingham”.
As previously reported by FE Week, Dr Collins was called in to the 20,000-learner college in February following an SFA notice of concern over its finances.
Dawn Whitemore, NCN principal, told FE Week in November that she was delighted the college’s progress had been recognised by Dr Collins.
The Skills Minister’s letter to the Marine Society College of the Sea (MSSC) in October ended a 10-month long intervention at the Lambeth-based provider, as previously reported by FE Week.
Dr Collins visited the provider, which has around 350 learners each year, on December 10, 2014, after it was slapped with an inadequate Ofsted rating in November 2014.
Mark Windsor, MSSC director of lifelong learning, told FE Week in November that he was “delighted” at the end of Dr Collins’ intervention.
Provider comments in full:
Sarah Robinson, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent College said: “Stoke-on-Trent College is performing well with strong enrolments in all areas. However, there is a legacy of relatively high levels of borrowing to invest in the basic infrastructure of the estate.
“The college commissioned KPMG to review efficiencies prior to the FE Commissioner’s report and, with the support of the FE Commissioner’s team over the last twelve months, we have ensured we have exceeded all targets resulting in a strong operating position for last year.
“The college is engaged in wave two of area reviews and is now modelling opportunities, challenges and risks in respect of future funding models.
“The report reflects the FE Commissioner’s confidence that the college is financially able to sustain its improvements and services to the local community in the future.”
Dr Mike Potter, principal of Guildford College Group, said: “After all our hard work, we are naturally pleased that the FE Commissioner is satisfied that his engagement in the current process with the College is now complete.
“We have, however, certainly valued the support of the FE Commissioner and his team in helping the college through a period of great change.
“These nevertheless remain challenging times for the FE sector and we remain focused on providing quality education and training for our students and local employers.”
Norfolk County Council
Richard Bearman, chair of the Norfolk County Council Adult Education Steering Group, said: “We’re pleased that both the FE Commissioner, and Ofsted in their recent re-inspection monitoring visit, have acknowledged the significant progress made since the initial Ofsted report in March 2015.
“I welcome the recognition that our improvement plan is working and thanks to the hard work of staff we are clearly heading in the right direction. The commitment shown by all the staff and senior managers for adult education has given the cross-party steering group confidence for the future of this service in Norfolk.”
Wandsworth Borough Council
A spokesperson said: “We’re obviously pleased that with the support of the Commissioner we’ve been able to raise service standards up to the desired level within such a short period of time.
“This support was particularly useful in helping the service strengthen its strategic planning and prioritise its resources. The service is now moving forward with a much clearer view of how it can maximise funding for the benefit of local residents.”
Nigel Evans, interim principal at Weymouth College, said: “Dr Collins and his team have been very helpful to us, in terms of providing clarity, and supporting us by asking us some quite challenging questions and ones that helped guide us. We’re happy in the sense that we’ve come out of administered status and we’re delighted to be a good college. We want to do the right thing.
“He made it very clear to us when we went into administered status what we had to do, and we’ve done it. In that sense, we’re pleased. Clearly, we haven’t suddenly gone from a notice of concern to outstanding, so we have to be on our toes at all times. I think we are in a different place.
“We have to be continually financial vigilant and at the same time put the needs of the students at the centre of what we do, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
New College Nottingham
Dawn Whitemore, principal at New College Nottingham said: “We’re on track to achieve our planned £1m surplus in 2015/2016.”
Ms Whitemore wrote an expert piece for FE Week in November about NCN’s road to recovery.
The Marine Society College of the Sea
Mark Windsor, MSSC director of lifelong learning, said: “We are delighted the Skills Minister has confirmed that the charity has made sufficient progress and therefore FE Commissioner-led intervention is no longer needed.”