A college which was controversially closed in the summer is set to be sold to a £12,000 a year state boarding school – raising hopes the site will continue to be used for education purposes.
Old Swinford Hospital, founded in 1667, has agreed terms to purchase the land and buildings of Stourbridge College from Birmingham Metropolitan College, following heightened concern that it could become housing.
BMet sold off Stourbridge College, which dates back over 100 years, in order to pay back debts which had totalled £8.9 million to the banks and £7.5 million to the Education and Skills Funding Agency by May this year.
Stourbridge merged with BMET in 2013 and was given a £5 million makeover two years later.
BMET said it would not disclose the price of the sale until the deal was finalised.
Old Swinford Hospital teaches students from years 7 to 13, where parents pay for boarding at an annual cost of £11,940. The Department for Education pays for the tuition.
BMET principal Cliff Hall said: “We are very pleased to have worked with Old Swinford Hospital to enable the Foundation to purchase the Stourbridge College land and buildings.
“It is important for us that this acquisition has the backing of Dudley Council and many other stakeholders in the local community.
“Continued use for education has been secured and we wish every success to Old Swinford Hospital and their partners in this new chapter of the development of the site.”
Speaking to regional newspaper the Express & Star, the chair of the boarding school said the purchase should ensure the site will continue to be used for education.
“Together with BMet College, we are delighted to announce this agreement after several months of discussions and negotiations,” said Malcolm Wilcox.
“The acquisition by the Feoffees (trustees) will allow the School of the Foundation, Old Swinford Hospital, the opportunity to expand, a development welcomed by the school’s governors and the headmaster Paul Kilbride.
“We shall also be working in partnership with Dudley Council who are supportive of our acquisition and school expansion as well as with other local stakeholders and providers to ensure the continuance of education on the Hagley Road site.”
Councillor Ian Kettle, Dudley’s cabinet member for regeneration and enterprise, added: “We are not able to comment on current negotiations as they are commercially sensitive.
“However, I can assure people that we are working proactively with all organisations involved and we are hopeful that the site will remain an education establishment in the future.”
When Stourbridge College was closed following a review by the FE Commissioner its learners were transferred to Dudley or Halesowen colleges, and some staff were also absorbed by the two colleges.
Local Conservative MP Margot James led a Westminster Hall debate on adult learning and vocational skills in the area last month following the announcement of the sell-off.
She called for the college to continue to be used for educational purposes: “The site has been associated with education for many years, and it is the deep wish of our community that the site be protected in future for educational use, at least for the most part, for the generations to come.”
After learning that Old Swinford Hospital will take over the site, James said: “I am pleased that the facilities at our former college will remain for the purposes of education and I am continuing to work with local colleges to ensure that part of the site is used for adult education and skills training and I am grateful to OSH for their support of this proposal.”
At the time Michelle Donelan, who is one of three ministers helping with the FE brief in the Department for Education, said selling Stourbridge was the “best option” to support BMet’s financial sustainability and, “crucially, to ensure that good-quality provision was available for current and future students”.
Donelan also confirmed that the FE Commissioner’s team, who intervened at BMet earlier this year, was planning to undertake a capacity and capability review to assess the group’s progress since a new leadership team arrived.
In August, the Head of the National Audit Office Gareth Davies told James the UK’s public spending watchdog was preparing to launch a value for money review on the management of colleges’ financial sustainability, after she had asked him to investigate BMet following its decision to sell off and close Stourbridge College.