A fund designed to help failing colleges improve the quality of education and training has opened its pilot scheme for applications.

Struggling general FE or sixth form colleges, supported by a stronger partner, will be able to apply for cash through the Strategic College Improvement Fund, to develop an improvement programme and a tailored package of support.

This is separate from the restructuring facility, which is funding available for colleges to implement recommendations from the area reviews.

Colleges rated as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’-overall can apply for grants of between £50,000 and £250,000 from the SCIF, with successful applicants also expected to contribute towards the total cost.

The cash is also available to colleges whose apprenticeship provision was graded three or four at their most recent Ofsted inspection.

Working with a partner college will “enable the applicant college to refine its understanding of the quality challenges it faces, develop a rigorous and costed programme of work, and use the experience and know-how of the partner college to put that improvement programme in place”, today’s announcement said.

The partner college must be rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their most recent Ofsted inspection.

The guidance does not stipulate that the partner college must be part of the connected National Leaders of Further Education programme – also launched today – although colleges being supported through NLFE can apply to the SCIF.

The grant cannot be used for capital expenditures valued over £2,500, staff restructuring or public relations activities, but the college’s own contribution can be used for these things if the applicant demonstrates the relevance of the expenditures.

Applications for the pilot, which expects to award funding to between 10 and 15 colleges, should be submitted before midnight on November 20. Successful applicants will be notified before Christmas.

Colleges can continue to submit applications until January 5 for the pilot’s second round of assessment.

Applications will be assessed by officials from DfE and the ESFA, with improvement work expected to begin in early 2018 and all grant-funded activity completed by July 31.

It’s all part of programme of support for colleges, announced by Education Secretary Justine Greening in July, which also included the NLFE programme – also launched today.

The NLFE, which is designed to complement the SCIF, will seek high achieving FE leaders to support weaker colleges.

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