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Colleges face axe in government’s streamlined vision of post-16 education

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Major reform of post-16 education and training institutions in England is needed to deal with the “significant” financial pressures they face, according to a new government paper published today.

The 10-page paper, Reviewing post-16 Education and Training Institutions, says there will need to be “fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers” in future. It says this will allow greater specialisation, creating institutions that are “genuine centres of expertise” that can support progression up to a high level in professional and technical disciplines.

The document also announces that the Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will start a programme of area-based reviews of 16-plus provision, “and do so quickly”.

It adds that the government will work with colleges to address financial or quality issues “where they need to be tackled much sooner”.

The reform was hinted at last month in a speech by skills minister Nick Boles, who questioned whether the general FE college model was right for the future when resources were constrained.

The paper says that although there are already “many excellent” FE colleges, “substantial change is required” to achieve the government’s objectives of creating high quality routes to employment and responding better to local employer needs while maintaining tight fiscal discipline.

“These objectives can only be delivered by strong institutions, which have the high status and specialism required to deliver credible routes to employment, either directly or via further study,” it says.

“These will include a new network of prestigious Institutes of Technology and National Colleges to deliver high standard provision at levels 3, 4 and 5.”

The paper adds that the FE and sixth-form college commissioners have identified “significant scope” for greater efficiency in the sector.

The area reviews, which will start immediately and be completed by March 2017, will focus on FE and sixth-form colleges. They can be initiated by the government or by a group of local providers working together.

According to the paper, each review will be led by a steering group comprising a range of stakeholders within the area. Likely members include the chairs of governors of each institution, the FE and sixth-form college commissioners, local authorities, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and regional schools commissioners.

All reviews will be asked to consider local economic objectives, national government policy, access, funding and support to return the unemployed to work.

“We expect institutions to take the right action, in light of the findings of a review, to ensure that they are resilient and able to respond to future funding priorities,” the paper says.

“Ultimately we expect the funding agencies and LEPs to only fund institutions that have taken action to ensure they can provide a good quality offer to learners and employers, which is financially sustainable for the long term.”

The paper says the government has already completed a number of trial reviews in Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottingham, and announces that a review in Birmingham will start this month. Detailed guidance on carrying out area-based reviews will be published in time for the start of the 2015-16 academic year.

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