Long-distance merger cleared despite council concerns

A controversial long-distance merger has been signed off by college governors, despite grave concerns from a London borough council.

Lewisham Southwark College will now join forces with NCG, based in Newcastle, on August 1, after the governors from both agreed cleared the move.

This is despite the controversial nature of the plans, due to the distance between both, which provoked the London borough of Lewisham into questioning the sense of their local college joining with a group whose headquarters is 300 miles away from the capital.

But speaking about today’s announcement, Chris Bilsland OBE, chair of governors at Lewisham Southwark College, said he was “delighted” at the merger, which would ensure “that we can remain a local college but with national reach”.

“The college will have the benefit of access to a huge range of expertise in areas such as apprenticeships and higher education as well as further education,” he said.

“At the same time, joining a like-minded organisation with an Ofsted ‘good’ rating will support us in continuing to improve the quality of our provision.”

Jamie Martin, chair of governors at NCG said: “We are delighted that the governors of Lewisham Southwark College have taken the decision to join with NCG and look forward to welcoming the team in the coming months.”

News of the planned merger between the London college, which is led by former Newcastle College principal Carole Kitching, and NCG first emerged in March 2016 – although talks began in autumn 2015.

Lewisham Southwark, which was rated ‘requires improvement’ at its most recent Ofsted inspection in May 2016, explored a possible merger with nearby Lambeth College during the central London area review last year – but the link-up with NCG emerged as its preferred option.

A spokesperson for Lewisham Council told FE Week in March, when consultation opened on the proposal, that it was “disappointed” at the outcome.

The council “would have preferred to see Lewisham Southwark College find a more local London partner”, it said.

Today’s announcement means that Lewisham Southwark will become the fifth FE college member of NCG, after Carlisle College joined in April.

NCG, which was rated ‘good’ in its most recent Ofsted inspection report published in September, also counts Newcastle College, West Lancashire College and Kidderminster College as members, alongside one sixth form college and two independent training providers.

Lewisham Southwark’s most recent Ofsted grade came after a troubled period for the college which saw it receive two grade fours in a row in 2014 and 2015.

Ms Kitching, who has overseen the college’s improvement since her appointment in 2015, said the merger would “provide a catalyst for growth in the range of programmes we can offer students, including vocational and technical Higher Education”. 

She stressed that the college would “continue to determine our own curriculum in response to local need, with NCG’s full backing for growth and development” and that it would “maintain a high degree of autonomy”.

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