Area reviews 'going remarkably well', insists FE commissioner

The FE commissioner told MPs today that area reviews were "very successful" and would produce huge financial benefits

News article image

FE commissioner Sir David Collins has said that the area reviews process is “going remarkably well”  - and, if he was to give advice to his successor Richard Atkins it would be, “steady as she goes”.

Sir David, speaking today at the Commons Education Select committee, told MPs that the area reviews were “very successful” and that it would produce "benefits of £200 million a year".

He said: “I think [the area reviews] have been very successful, but I would say that wouldn’t I?"

The commissioner continued: "I don’t think it’s a particularly costly process if you actually look at the potential benefits. My best guess would be between £2 million and £3 million, but producing benefits of £200 million plus per year going forwards. So, relatively speaking, I would have thought it was pretty good value for money."

Sir David also told MPs that currently 88 FE colleges were discussing merger options – while 60 were “standing alone”.

“Of the first three waves that are coming to a conclusion now there are 88 colleges engaged in merger discussions which compares with an average of four a year from 2010 to the start of the process in 2015,” he said.

“But there are also over 60 colleges – excluding sixth-form colleges – that are standing alone. And the test from the commissioner has been not whether there should be a merger or not, but whether the institutions that are remaining are financially viable or not.”

Asked whether the area review process would reduce the number of colleges, Sir David said that he expected the total number of colleges to drop by 70.

“It’s going to be somewhere between 50 and 80 I would think. We’re still going through the early stages of wave 4 and wave 5 starts in November. Probably my best guess now would be 70 on the basis we’ve already got [88] colleges in various [stages] of merger discussions.”

In a letter to principals and college chairs last week Sir David predicted “upwards of 50 fewer GFE colleges than before”, and the academisation of a “significant proportion” of sixth-form colleges.

'Fundamentally flawed'

When asked what advice he would lend to his successor, Richard Atkins, Sir David added: “Don't rock the boat. This is going remarkably well. My advice is steady as she goes.”

Last week the Sixth Form College Association (SFCA) said that area reviews "do not make educational or economic sense" and that, due to its sole focus on sixth-from colleges, was “fundamentally flawed”.

In a written submission to the committee, the SFCA stated: “It does not make educational or economic sense to scrutinise the 90 sixth form colleges in England, but not the 2001 school and academy sixth forms."

FE SPECIAL OFFER: click here to try out a TES Further Education subscription for just £1 for 4 weeks.

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES FE News on Twitter, like us on Facebook and follow us on LinkedIn

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you