The final reports and recommendations for 15 area reviews have been published by the Department for Education (DfE) today, outlining proposals for dozens of mergers, and for sixth-form colleges to convert to become academies.
The reports recommend 16 mergers, but two – between Stanmore College and West Herts College, and New College Swindon and Swindon College – have been cancelled. Of the 117 FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and college groups, 28 colleges will be involved in 14 mergers.
The publication of the reports marks the formal end to the two-year area review process, designed to result in "financially viable, sustainable, resilient and efficient" colleges.
To date, there have been 33 college mergers since the process started, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC), and four sixth-form college academy conversions. Chief executive David Hughes said he expected to see another "15-20 mergers and 10-15 conversions in the next 18 months".
He said that colleges' experiences of the process had been "variable, and there have been some problems on the way, but colleges have used the exercise to consider their future strategies".
"Area reviews are now complete but colleges still operate in an area where the rules and policies change at short notice, where funding is still being cut in real terms, where margins and reserves are often alarmingly low and where competition often benefits no one," Mr Hughes added. "Because of this, some individual institutions will still get into difficulty. AoC is working with government to improve the monitoring, intervention and support regime and to create an environment in which colleges have the best chances to be viable and continue to improve."
He also called on the DfE to carry out "targeted reviews of post-16 provision in schools as they have done for colleges".
Full area review recommendations
Mergers: Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham have merged to form Nottingham College.
Standalone colleges: Chesterfield College, Derby College, Vision West Nottinghamshire College, Portland College.
Standalone colleges: Kingston Maurward College, Bournemouth and Poole College, Weymouth College.
Mergers: Proposal for a merger between New College Swindon and Swindon College. This has since been cancelled.
Standalone colleges: Cirencester College, Gloucestershire College, Hartpury College, Wiltshire College.
Mergers: Cambridge Regional College and Huntingdonshire Regional College have merged.
Standalone colleges: Hills Road Sixth Form College, Peterborough Regional College.
Academy conversions: Long Road Sixth Form College.
Mergers: Seevic College and Palmer’s Sixth Form College merged on 1 August 2017 to form Seevic and Palmer’s Colleges Group.
Standalone colleges: Colchester Institute, Harlow College, Prospects College of Advanced Technology, South Essex College.
Academy conversions: The Sixth Form College Colchester to explore conversion to a single academy trust (SAT) or retain standalone sixth-form college status.
Mergers: North Lindsey College to explore options for a merger with Doncaster College.
Standalone colleges: New College Stamford, Boston College, Grantham College.
Federations: Franklin Sixth Form College and John Leggott Sixth Form College to establish a formal federated structure with Wyke Sixth Form College and Wilberforce Sixth Form College; Grimsby Institute and Lincoln College to enter into a federation.
Mergers: West Herts College to enter into a Type B merger with Stanmore College. This was later cancelled.
Standalone colleges: Hertford Regional College, North Hertfordshire College, Oaklands College.
Mergers: Canterbury College and East Kent College to merge.
Standalone colleges: Hadlow College (subject to an evaluation by the FE commissioner), West Kent and Ashford College (subject to an evaluation by the FE commissioner), Mid Kent College, North Kent College.
Mergers: Accrington and Rossendale College and Burnley College to merge; Preston’s College to merge with the University of Central Lancashire.
Standalone colleges: Blackburn College, Blackpool and The Fylde College, The Blackpool Sixth Form College, Lancaster and Morecambe College, Myerscough College, Nelson and Colne College, Runshaw College, St Mary's College, Thomas Whitham Sixth Form, West Lancashire College (as a division of the Newcastle College Group).
Academy conversions: Cardinal Newman College to remain standalone and to assess the case for academisation.
Mergers: Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I Sixth Form College and Regent Sixth Form College will develop the option of a full merger; Gateway Sixth Form College to consider a merger with Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I Sixth Form College and Regent Sixth Form College (Gateway College later withdrew from the Leicester and Leicestershire area review).
Standalone colleges: Stephenson College, North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, Brooksby Melton College, Leicester College, Loughborough College.
Mergers: City College Norwich and Paston Sixth Form College to merge; Lowestoft College and Great Yarmouth College merged on 1 August 2017 to become East Coast College. It was proposed that Lowestoft Sixth Form College would join the merged college in 2018, but it later withdrew from these plans.
Standalone colleges: College of West Anglia, Easton and Otley College to remain as a standalone college, Suffolk New College, West Suffolk College.
Academy conversions: East Norfolk Sixth Form College to explore academisation or remain as a stand-alone sixth-form college.
Mergers: South Tyneside College and Tyne Metropolitan College merged on 1 August.
Standalone colleges: Bishop Auckland College, New College Durham, Durwentside College, Gateshead College, Newcastle College (as part of NCG), Newcastle Sixth Form College (as part of NCG), Sunderland College, East Durham College, Northumberland College.
Standalone colleges: Bridgwater and Taunton College, Richard Huish College, Strode College, Yeovil College, City College Plymouth, Exter College, Petrox, South Devon College, Cornwall College, Truro and Penwith College.
Mergers: Tresham College and Bedford College have merged to become The Bedford College Group; Barnfield College and Central Bedfordshire College are “seriously committed to exploring the principle of merger”.
Standalone colleges: Milton Keynes College, Moulton College, Northampton College.
Academy conversions: Luton Sixth Form College.
Mergers: Craven College to progress towards a three-way merger of Craven College, Shipley College and the Keighley Campus of Leeds City College to create a single "Aire Valley College".
Standalone colleges: Askham Bryan College, Bishop Burton College, East Riding College, Hull College Group, Selby College, York College.
Academy conversions: Scarborough Sixth Form College "may" explore options for academy status.
Federations: Wilberforce Sixth Form College and Wyke Sixth Form College to establish a formal federated structure with Franklin Sixth Form College and John Leggott Sixth Form College.