FE Commissioner launches city-wide review looking at merging Nottingham’s two biggest colleges

The FE Commissioner has launched a city-wide review of vocational education in Nottingham which is looking at merging the city’s two biggest colleges, FE Week can exclusively reveal.

It follows grade three Ofsted inspection results for both colleges over the last year and the revelation, reported in FE Week on April 20, that New College Nottingham (NCN) plans for a multimillion pound campus revamp had to be saved by £12m funding from the local authority and Skills Funding Agency (SFA).
p3--Dawn-WhitemorewpDawn Whitemore (pictured left), principal of  NCN, and Malcolm Cowgill (pictured below right), principal of Central College Nottingham (CCN), issued a joint statement to their staff on Tuesday (April 28) confirming that Dr David Collins had launched a review focusing on both colleges this week.

It said that the first of four planned meetings, chaired by the FE Commissioner and involving governors from both colleges and both principals, took place on Monday (April 27).

“Prior to this meeting, Dr Collins and his advisors met with key stakeholders in the city and county who articulated their desire for a single FE proposition and therefore were fully supportive of the process,” it said.

“Dr Collins articulated the meeting’s purpose and the terms of engagement, reiterating that the FE Commissioner’s role was one of facilitation, with a clear aim of achieving a single proposition which delivers robust outcomes for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire as a whole.

“The governing bodies of both colleges will be responsible for driving forward the review process while the role of the FE Commissioner and his advisors will be to broker feasible options that are in the best interests of learners and employers.”

It said that both colleges had agreed to “participate actively” in the review and “share information and data openly”.

A spokesperson for NCN also told FE Week 20 minutes ago: “The review has been on the cards for some time and has been championed by Nottingham City Council who see it as an important aspect of their devolution agenda.

“Both colleges welcome this review and will continue to work in partnership with all key stakeholders throughout the process.Malcolm-Cowgillwp

“This process requires both colleges to review their curriculum offer, estates and finances, which means there is much work to be done by all parties before the FE Commissioner presents his final recommendations in July.

“Therefore, this is not the time to speculate on the outcome of the review, but to focus on the task in hand so we can secure a bright future for FE in Nottingham.”

It is thought that this is the first is the first time that the FE Commissioner has used his ‘area based review’ powers, as he normally only investigates single colleges.

Dr Collins was sent in to inspect NCN over financial concerns earlier this year and a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said: “As a part of the intervention process taking place at NCN, the FE Commissioner is overseeing discussions between NCN and CNN, who have agreed to take part in a broader discussion to consider how to provide the best further education offer for local learners and employers.”

It comes after CCN received a grade three Ofsted rating in November last year.

The report stated that the college’s “managers do not accurately assess the quality of provision in all subject areas and they do not consistently set targets to tackle specific reasons for underperformance”.

Also, NCN was rated as grade three by Ofsted following an inspection in May last year.

The report stated that “leadership and management of the different subject areas are not yet consistently good enough to ensure that all learners and apprentices have an equal chance of being successful, irrespective of the subject they choose to learn”.

It was further revealed in FE Week on April 20 that NCN plans for a multimillion pound campus revamp had to be saved after the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and local authority stepped in with £12m of funding.

It had already had a grant of £15m from the SFA for its Basford Hall campus redevelopment, and it is understood that the new deal will bring the funding up to the £27m needed for the work.

It is understood finances at the college, which triggered an inspection from FE Commissioner Dr David Collins in February, had proved a concern for potential bank lenders.

However, a spokesperson for the college, which suffered a loss of £2.4m last academic year, said at the time that this would allow it to open the revamped campus on time this September following a £5m loan from Nottingham City Council and, FE Week understands, a £5m SFA grant and exceptional financial support of £2m.

The new campus will accommodate 4,500 construction, science, engineering and technology students a year.

Financial issues at the college, which is looking to shed around 80 posts, mean it has also been forced to put its contribution to a £60m city-wide skills hub on hold — although it remains involved with a scheme steering group. “We are working together with Central College Nottingham and other partners on the Skills Hub development,” said Ms Whitemore.

A Nottingham City Council spokesperson confirmed that the council was involved with the city-wide review .

The SFA and Association of Colleges declined to comment.



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2 Comments

  1. Graham Leggett

    Less choice in educational establishments for young people. Monopoly

    Amazing how a college that is not able to sustain itself can be handed 12 million in funds.

    Capital investment seems to only happen to large establishments that are failing.

    Banks now Colleges how much longer are we to prop up these failing organisations with Tax payers money.

  2. UCU Nottingham

    The following statement on the review of FE in Nottingham was drafted before the election by branch officers of the two Nottingham FE colleges. Although election of a Tory government poses a serious threat to further education, we are sharing it because we feel that the arguments outlined in the statement are still valid.

    In our view, the FE review in Nottingham should be an opportunity for an open, transparent and public discussion on the further of adult and further education in the city. We believe that this would redress in a modest way the deficit in democratic accountability that characterises FE, locally and nationally. In the statement, we argue that the structure of adult and further education should reflect the principle that education is a public good and that the range of provision should give due regard to the fact that learning is not only about ‘employability’ and skills but also about personal development, community cohesion and citizenship.

    With the election of a government who are indifferent to the broader traditions of adult and further education, educators in FE at all levels will need to mobilise their resources of imagination, courage and solidarity, not only to protect their own jobs and pay, but to ensure that the communities of Nottingham have access to the lifelong learning they deserve and need.

    Nottingham UCU
    Review of Further Education in Nottingham
    May 2015

    UCU welcomes the review of further education in Nottingham. Whilst the review was prompted by the financial difficulties experienced at NCN, we are mindful that NCN is not the first Nottingham college to find itself facing financial problems. When this happens, the losers are our students, the communities that rely on our FE colleges, and FE staff, for whom redundancy is often an inevitable consequence.

    The current review presents us with a vital opportunity to address the deficits of structure and purpose in local FE.
    UCU has long argued that the FE structures in the city need rethinking. Over the years, we have drawn attention to the unnecessary and wasteful competition between FE providers. This was a direct and inevitable consequence of incorporation and the later ‘privatisation’ of FE colleges. As academies have set up 6th form provision and compete for 16 to 18 year olds, and at least one college from outside the locality has moved into the city, the problem of competition has become even more pronounced.

    UCU has consistently stressed the lack of transparency and local accountability in FE decision-making and planning. There is a lack of meaningful and inclusive participation by communities, students, college educators and local employers in developing the priorities and direction of provision. In short, FE is marked by a profound democratic deficit.

    Merger

    UCU has traditionally remained neutral on the issue of merger. The merger of NCN and Central is only one option; alternative propositions should be explored. Research shows that mergers do not necessarily result in better run, more stable colleges or better quality provision. This is particularly the case when mergers are undertaken for reasons of financial expediency.

    Our responses to merger proposals have focused on two key principles. We have argued that:

    • There should be no redundancies or worsening of pay and conditions for FE staff as a result of merger.
    • The range and locality of provision should be protected so as to ensure access to vocational and academic education for students from all communities at a level suitable to their needs.

    UCU believe that FE is a public resource and the current consultation should reflect that status. In keeping with the aspiration for transparency and inclusion, we seek for the current review to be conducted in a way that encourages public engagement in deciding the future structure and vision for FE in Nottingham and that enables meaningful participation in the review process by all stakeholders.

    Structures

    We believe that the role of FE is to enable individuals in Nottingham to engage in learning appropriate to their needs. This requires structures which are accountable and transparent and which actively promote collaboration.

    It follows that the current arrangements in which colleges are constituted as private bodies is inadequate. FE provision in the conurbation requires a single strategic body, with meaningful representation from all key stakeholders and based in the local authority. The local authority has a key responsibility for economic development and skills training, as well for the wider educational well-being of local people. It also represents an important element of democratic accountability. Through the local authority, FE could be linked more effectively to other local services to provide a holistic provision to local people.

    To support a strategic body and ensure stakeholder participation and accountability in decision-making, we propose a local ‘Further, Adult and Community Education and Skills Forum’, with representation from college managements, students, community bodies, local employers, trade unions and educators working in the FE and skills sector. The role of the ‘Education Forum’ would be to agree the broad educational priorities for the conurbation, with members from it elected to the strategic body.

    Provision

    We believe that FE is not just about skills and employability, although vocational educational has been and will remain at the core what our colleges offer. The contribution of further education to individual well-being and growth, social cohesion and democratic citizenship is widely recognised. A collaborative strategic structure would be in a better position to pool resources and expertise in order to provide the kind of comprehensive educational offer we need in the city, including appropriate forms of vocational education, second-chance academic learning and basic and community education.

    An opportunity not to be wasted

    We are mindful of the potential opportunities provided by the devolving of budgets to the local authority for creating better structures and a broader educational provision.

    As an association of professional educators, UCU wants to contribute to that process.

    The review is an opportunity for a broad collaborative effort that restores the democratic dimension of FE. It is an opportunity that should not be wasted.