Future of nearly 40 colleges in question as BIS and DfE reveals those facing area reviews

Twenty two general FE colleges will be involved in the first round of post-16 education and training area reviews announced by the government this morning.

The future of a further 16 sixth form colleges (SFCs) will also be assessed as part of the reviews taking place in Birmingham and Solihull, Greater Manchester, and Sheffield city region.

It comes as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Department for Education (DfE) also finally published its guidance on the review process for post-16 education and training institutions. A version of the guidance had already been leaked to FE Week.

Each review will start with an assessment of the economic and educational needs of the area, and the implications for post-16 education and training provision, also including school sixth forms and independent learning providers (ILPs).

A BIS and DfE spokesperson said: “The reviews will focus on the current structure of FE colleges and SFCs, although there will be opportunities for other institutions [including schools and independent providers] to opt in to this stage of the analysis.”

The reviews will be led by steering groups consisting of college chairs of governors, local enterprise partnerships, local authorities, regional schools commissioners, SFC Commissioner Peter Mucklow and FE Commissioner Dr David Collins.

Dr Collins will chair the Birmingham and Solihull, and Sheffield City Region local steering groups, which will meet for the first time on September 18 and 28 respectively.

The Greater Manchester local steering group, which will be chaired by chief executive of Trafford City Council Theresa Grant, will meet for the first time on September 21.

The BIS and DfE spokesperson said that the collective approach was “designed achieve a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers, and more effective collaboration across institution types.

“A critical aspect will be to create greater specialisation, with the establishment of institutions that are genuine centres of expertise, able to support sustained progression in professional and technical disciplines, alongside excellence in other fundamental areas — such as English and maths.”

It comes after five FE and sixth form colleges facing “significant financial challenges” announced on July 21 that they are “actively considering” collaboration plans, following a review of post-16 provision in North East Norfolk and North Suffolk.

It was overseen by Dr Collins and Mr Mucklow during the first five months of this year.

It came a day after BIS announced plans, in its report Reviewing post-16 education and training institutions, for a “programme of area-based reviews to review 16+ provision in every area” of the country.

The North East Norfolk and North Suffolk review and another for Nottingham, which FE Week revealed had been launched on May 1, were pilots for this.

The colleges involved in the reviews are yet to comment.

Area review details

Birmingham and Solihull
FE colleges
Birmingham Metropolitan College, Bournville College, Solihull College & South and City College Birmingham

Sixth form colleges
Cadbury Sixth Form College, Joseph Chamberlain College & The Sixth Form College Solihull

First meeting of the local steering group: Friday, September 18
Chair of the local steering group: Dr David Collins, FE Commissioner
Area review team lead: Lynne Tabone

Greater Manchester
FE colleges
Bolton College, Bury College, Hopwood Hall College, Salford City College, Stockport College, Tameside College, The Manchester College, The Oldham College, Trafford College & Wigan and Leigh College

Sixth form colleges
Aquinas College, Ashton-Under-Lyne Sixth Form College, Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College, Holy Cross College, Xaverian College, Loreto College, Oldham Sixth Form College, St John Rigby RC Sixth Form College, Rochdale Sixth Form College, Winstanley Sixth Form College & Bolton Sixth Form College

First meeting of the local steering group: Monday, September 21
Chair of the local steering group: Theresa Grant, chief executive of Trafford City Council
Area review team lead: John Barber

Sheffield City Region
FE colleges
Barnsley College, Chesterfield College, Dearne Valley College, Doncaster College, North Nottinghamshire College, Rotherham College, Northern College & Sheffield College

Sixth form colleges
Thomas Rotherham College & Longley Park

First meeting of the local steering group: Monday, September 28
Chair of the local steering group: Dr David Collins, FE Commissioner
Area review team lead: John Barber

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    • You’re assuming that the purpose of the review is to look at educational and training provision across an area and to establish what best meets the needs of the local economy and population. Since it is about cost cutting, and political expediency, schools have no need to be involved since the policy of allowing academies and free schools with sixth forms, to spring up everywhere, whether they’re needed or not, trumps any other sensible approach.

    • Graham Ripley

      Alas you are quite right. The “silo” nature of this review perpetuates the artificial and unhelpful divide between schools, colleges and universities.

      As a senior member of AOC put to me a few weeks ago we require “a fully aligned and seamless system where progression and pathways are embedded, understood and coherent.”

    • Gillian Miller

      Put yourself in their shoes. If the answer the government wants to get back is “fewer colleges” then they have to structure the question (or rather, the area review process) so thats the only answer they can possibly get. Its not logic. Its politics.

  1. Graham Ripley

    Despite the headline of this article, we should remember that FE Colleges are autonomous and any decision as to their future is in the hands of the governing body.

    I speculate that no college will wish to join the review process for the area unless it can be sure that a thorough consideration of all the issues can be made. Chairs may therefore wish to establish, in advance from their boards, that no such thorough consideration can be given in respect to their college unless their Principal or Chief Executive is a member of the review team.

  2. Allowing FE Colleges, Schools and Sixth Forms to be independent in whatever form (Academy, Free School etc.) has meant that there has been less focus and control over their finances. This has lead to more institutions having financial issues and funding problems spiraling out of control, add on top of that two cuts in FE funding.

  3. Ian Wilson

    Incorporation has led to more focus and control over college finances, not less. There is only one cause of the current financial issues and that is unfair, unprecedented and unsustainable funding cuts. These cuts have not been applied to other education sectors. Unfortunately, the present government feels that Further Education can be got rid of and that nobody will notice. By the time the electorate wake up to all of this it will be too late and the life chances of millions of working class people will have gone up in smoke.