Further education colleges will have to join forces with neighbouring education and training providers to protect expensive courses such as science and engineering, the FE Commissioner has warned.
In his first annual report, published today, Dr David Collins says it would be “foolish” to pretend the FE sector does not have a difficult time ahead due to looming funding cuts and rising demand for skills.
When resources are short, he says, neighbouring colleges should work together and with other providers to come up with joint plans for their communities.
“There is a danger that without such a consideration the more expensive areas of the curriculum will disappear from areas where they are needed in a college’s pursuit of financial stability,” he warns.
The report sets out the lessons learned from the first 11 colleges referred to Dr Collins since he was appointed as FE Commissioner in November 2013. Four of those were triggered by an inadequate Ofsted inspection and seven because of financial concerns.
Among the issues the Commissioner raises are ineffective clerks, weaknesses on governing bodies and senior leadership teams, weak performance management systems and poor financial management.
“Few people would disagree that the further education sector is essential to the development of the economy and ensuring social mobility,” he writes.
“As such it needs to provide high quality teaching and learning within the resources available. The interventions over the past year, however, have flagged up the work that in some colleges is still to be done.”
However, the Commissioner says that despite the serious difficulties, the hard work of staff in colleges is producing “significant and rapid” turnarounds for the benefit of learners.
In his foreword to the report, skills minister Nick Boles says the 11 referred colleges have made “encouraging progress”.
“While there is no doubt that the FE sector faces a number of challenges, I am confident that it has the resilience to continue to deliver high quality vocational education, and that intervention, when it does happen, will be efficient, robust and effective in driving up standards,” he adds.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said it was important to remember that the 11 colleges that have so far been referred to the FE Commissioner represent just six per cent of the total number in the country.
"Looking forward, the Commissioner is right to warn of the impact spending cuts are having in narrowing colleges’ curriculum and to raise a concern that more expensive courses, such as engineering, may not be sustainable in the future,” he added.