Local area reviews of college provision could be led by FE commissioner Richard Atkins, under a new government intervention strategy.
In its College oversight: support and intervention policy paper, the Department for Education has outlined its new college intervention strategy, following the end of the restructuring facility and the introduction of the new college insolvency regime.
It includes a "strengthened role for the FE commissioner to review provision in a local area". The report also sets out a series of new triggers for formal interventions in colleges.
The new "local provision review" reports will provide recommendations for a particular area, rather than just a single institution FE commissioner-led structure and prospects appraisals (SPA) report.
Need to know: The new college insolvency regime
Colleges: a return to area reviews?
The reviews mark a return to reviewing provision on a regional basis, following the end of the area reviews. In July 2015, the then skills minister, Nick Boles, announced plans for “a restructuring of the post-16 education and training sector, through a series of area-based reviews of provision”. The 37 reviews were carried out in five waves, with the first review beginning in September 2015 and the report of the final review published in August 2017.
Triggers for the new commissioner-led reviews include the risk of insolvency, changing student numbers and skills needs or an "inadequate" Ofsted grade.
Last month the FE commissioner published a review of post-16 provision in Cornwall. This came about after the leader of Cornwall Council "requested an FE commissioner review of all post-16 provision across Cornwall, considering whether current provision was having the maximum impact and benefit for learners, employers and the wider community in the area".
The “solutions” that the FE commissioner can recommend include mergers and demergers, selling off land and the closure of a “solvent or insolvent” college, with its assets, liabilities and provision transferring to another organisation.
'Securing future provision'
With the end of the exceptional financial support last month, the DfE has confirmed that emergency funding may be available on a “case-by-case basis” but would be “the minimum to keep the college solvent during that period”. The education secretary may alternatively apply for education administration “if it is judged that this is the most cost-effective way of securing future provision in the area”.
Last month, Mr Atkins told Tes that he feared there was a “high risk” of a college becoming insolvent within the next 12 months.
Spotting looming problems
Minister for skills and apprenticeships Anne Milton said: “The strengthened college oversight guidance is a new ‘one-stop’ document which sets out how we will work with colleges to identify issues early on, make sure they are aware of the support available and, where problems persist, it explains how we will intervene and support them.
“I encourage all college leaders and governors to read this document and to act early if they see problems ahead. We can then do our best to help.”
The new reviews will "consider the overall provision for learners in the area", looking across "multiple relevant institutions" – and can "consider whether government needs to create new capacity". They will be instigated "in response to gaps in provision or potential insolvency".
"FEC local provision reviews are a flexible intervention that can make recommendations on the best way of achieving long-term sustainable provision, looking at neighbouring provision to examine structural solutions for securing long-term provision," the document adds.