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Does size really matter?

Yes, says Nottingham principal, as he risks enraging smaller colleges by proclaiming that 'big is better'. Joe Clancy reports

The head of a college formed by a merger of four small colleges this week declared: "Big is better."

Geoff Hall, principal of New College, Nottingham, believes that larger colleges deliver better results - and offers his recent inspection report as evidence.

The Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate rated the college as "highly successful" in their report published on Friday.

Leadership and management were rated "good", two curriculum areas "outstanding", five "good", and the remaining five "satisfactory".

Mr Hall said: "If you look at large urban colleges they have done extremely well at Ofsted. The bigger city colleges are showing that this form of organisation is successful.

"I looked at the 20 biggest colleges and the figures show that none has a grade four for leadership and management.

"The big colleges do very well. It is the smaller colleges that are struggling in a competitive environment and are in peril."

He is urging that a review of the future role of FE colleges, being conducted by Sir Andrew Foster, closely considers adopting a US-style system of large community colleges.

Mr Hall's college came together as a four-way merger over 18 months to September 1999. But he believes the merger should have gone further to include the other two small colleges in the city, People's and Broxtowe.

"There should be one college for the conurbation and one college for the county," he said. "There would be no need for a local LSC.

"If you are trying to cater for a broader range of students you need to have a certain critical mass that enables you to put things together to have good resources, student services, and trained specialists.

"We have a staff development centre and a programme that would be difficult to operate in a small college. I have a cadre of senior staff who have stayed because there have always been opportunities for them to develop.

"A large college will be better able to manipulate different funding sources. A small college isn't going to be able to provide the kind of services to tackle a wide range of client groups."

He is planning to visit the Alamo Community College in San Antonio, Texas, next month. "It is one of the largest and I believe most dynamic community colleges in the US," he said. "It is the type of college that is the driving force behind NCN."

Mr Hall wants big colleges to influence the debate about FE more. He is planning to form a pressure group comprising the principals of large urban colleges. "I feel that we are not punching our weight in the sector," he said.

"Sixth form colleges have their own lobby group, and their combined budgets are not as big as the budgets of the 30 biggest colleges. We are so far down the pecking order now. There are so many quangos between us and the people making decisions, it is high time for principals to stand up and speak out."

He expressed delight at the inspectors' verdict on his college. He said:

"We are absolutely thrilled. Somewhere in the report, every team in the college receives a commendation.

"What particularly pleases me is that out of the 21 judgements made by the inspection and audit teams not one grade is unsatisfactory. This is extremely rare for a large college like NCN."

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