Skills Minister Nick Boles issues ‘nothing to fear from college mergers’ assurance

Skills Minister Nick Boles has tried to reassure colleges undergoing post-16 education and training area reviews that mergers were “nothing to be afraid of”.MA_Yvonne_Fovargue_MP_03wp

He was told today by Shadow Consumer Affairs and Science Minister Yvonne Fovargue (pictured right) that colleges in her Makerfield constituency feared that their local Greater Manchester review launched last month with the “strong presumption” that mergers were “the only way forward”.

When the former Shadow Education Minister for Young People then asked, during the education questions in Parliament this afternoon, if other ways to achieve financial stability and good outcomes for learners would be given “serious consideration”, Mr Boles said: “We are certainly open to a whole range of options.”

But, he added: “I would disagree that there is somehow there is anything necessarily to be afraid of from mergers.

“A merger can mean that you save on a whole lot of administrative and management costs, so that you can actually put more money into paying for teachers doing the job we all want them to do.”

It comes after FE Commissioner Dr David Collins told delegates at the Higher and Further Education Show, in London on October 14, that “divorces” as well as “marriages” would be encouraged as viable options between colleges undergoing area reviews, as reported in edition 151 of FE Week.

Area reviews have so far been announced for 83 general FE colleges and sixth form colleges in the West Yorkshire, Tees Valley, Sussex Coast, Solent, Birmingham and Solihull, Greater Manchester, and Sheffield city areas.

However, a number of principals involved, along with sector leaders, have told FE Week of their concerns that school sixth forms were not necessarily subject to the reviews.

When questioned during today’s Commons hearing on the issue, Mr Boles said: “The regional school commissioner, who has responsibility for commissioning school provision in his or her area, is always going to be part of these reviews and can bring in the perspective of sixth forms in schools.

“But I don’t think he or she would think it practical to include every single school with a sixth form in this review and actually achieve a result.

“We are determined to achieve a result in a short space of time so we have strong, specialist insitutions able to achieve high quality education.”

Bob Blackman MP (pictured left) also asked Mr Boles what discussions had taken place over the “VAT treatment of SFCs”.

It comes after the government’s policy of continuing to charge SFCs VAT while schools and academies are entitled to a refund of the 20 per cent tax sparked a campaign for reform by the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA), backed by sector leaders and dozens of MPs, before the May general election, as reported in FE Week. There has still been no change from the government so far on the issue.

But Mr Boles told MPs that he “entirely understands those arguments” and had “some sympathy with them”.

However, he said that any decision on this would lie with Chancellor George Osborne, which “we all wait for… with baited breath”.

He added that SFCs “might want to link up with groups of schools, with multi-academy trusts in order to be stronger themselves”.

An SFCA spokesperson told FE Week after the debate: “We hope that ending the unfair VAT treatment of SFCs will be a key priority in the spending review.”

She added: “We are very much in favour of academisation and the opportunity to link up with schools.”

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  1. LRoding

    Of course there’s nothing to fear. It’s like most of this government’s policies; the reality and the rhetoric are poles apart.The continuing failure to acknowledge that the whole of the post 16 landscape needs to be in the pot merely emphasises the fact that this is political, dogmatic and financial and has nothing whatsoever to do with joined up thinking. The fact that they continue to trot out this tripe is pitiful as well as being deeply damaging.

  2. Graham Ripley

    When a politician says “There is nothing to fear”, that’s the time to worry!

    A more appropriate and less sweeping response would have been along the lines of ” These reviews will of bring exciting changes that will present themselves as opportunities for FE to refresh and restructure itself, for what we see as their bright future”

    However I don’t believe either are likely!

  3. Teresa Corr

    “A merger can mean that you save on a whole lot of administrative and management costs, so that you can actually put more money into paying for teachers doing the job we all want them to do.”

    In real terms there is a drive to downgrade the pay, terms and conditions of teachers in colleges. Many have not had a pay rise or significant pay rise for years. Riding in tandem with the area review is a move to increase teachers’s classroom hours, massively increase class sizes, reduce holiday and other entitlements.

    Teachers are seeing working in a college as increasingly unstable after year on rear of cuts, a cull of thousands in the summer of 2015 and the threat of bigger funding cuts than ever to face.

    Support staff /managers will be farmed off to shared services companies on lower wages and loss of pension. The current culture of colleges will be destroyed.

    Big is best! Who says and based on what?

    Boles – tories are killing the sector.

  4. Why can’t we cut to the chase. The government neither know of let alone support the FE sector. The Tory boys and girls understand elitist schools, 6th forms and universities and even believe these institutions can undertake the work of colleges. This is an attack on the sector from a government with no conscience or integrity nothing more and nothing less.

    Watch the number of GFECs tumble whilst our representative bodies flounder worrying about how to preserve their futures.

  5. FE Lecturer

    I’m sure everybody in FE will be totally reassured that budget cuts will bring about a new era in further education. We all know how much they have thought about the long term consequencies.
    The government has cleverly spotted that FE colleges are awash with money and seen an opportunity to stop wasting money on training young people in the UK in skills the economy needs. Instead they have wisely decided to allocate the money to educate young people in war torn corrupt countries via the foreign aid budget(which is ringfenced). We bow to our glorious government as they use taxpayers money to escalate this country to third world status.

  6. As no one else has mentioned it yet, tell the staff and students of K College that they had nothing to fear, that they saved any money. Tell the learners of LeSoCo that they had a better quality education over the last four years.
    Yes, there have been successful mergers, but there have also been some absolute clangers…

  7. offended

    “A merger can mean that you save on a whole lot of administrative and management costs, so that you can actually put more money into paying for teachers doing the job we all want them to do.”

    I suppose it CAN mean that, but in this case it doesn’t. Mergers aren’t on the cards in order to increase teacher pay, they are about trying to save costs so government funding can be cut. To suggest that it has anything to do with tutor pay increases is just a ‘divide and conquer’ ploy. Complete lack of respect or integrity.