FE commissioner tells Guildford College to merge by the end of this year

The FE institution, Surrey’s largest college group, has been placed under FE commissioner intervention

Jonathan Owen

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Guildford College has been told it needs to merge with another institution after struggling with to manage its finances and maintain standards, according to a report by the further education commissioner released today.

The college has “experienced a number of difficulties in relation both to finance and to quality over recent years,” according to FE commissioner Richard Atkins' assessment summary.

His report cites “significant volatility” in the college’s leadership, with three chief executives over the last twelve months.

It warns that the college has “suffered from declining turnover and poor financial health for a number of years” and is expecting “a further significant deficit in the current year”.

The report states: “Quality is also a concern, with consecutive Ofsted ‘requires improvement’ outcomes”.

Merger required

An area review in 2016 recommended that the college move towards a merger, but “progress has stalled” and “fresh impetus is now required,” according to the report.

It recommends that a Structure and Prospects Appraisal (SPA) be carried out. “It is anticipated that the result of the SPA will be to identify a merger partner for the college, with a merger to be completed by the end of calendar year 2018 at the latest.”

Responding to the report, in a letter to the college’s chair of governors John Denning released today, the former education secretary Justine Greening says: “The commissioner’s principal recommendation is that the College should rapidly identify a suitable merger partner to enable it to improve the quality of its delivery for learners – and stabilise its financial position.”

She adds: “Ahead of the merger being achieved, it is essential that you rapidly improve the quality of delivery for current learners, through strengthening the college’s post-inspection action plan.”

A spokesperson for the college told Tes: “The Guildford College Group is actively working with the FE commissioner’s office to seek a merger partner who will support the growth and development of the Guildford College Group”.

Progress made by another college under scrutiny

Easton and Otley College was referred to the FE commissioner after failing an Ofsted inspection last year. His assessment summary on Easton and Otley College, released today, states that “learner numbers are in decline” and the “the college is forecasting significant operating deficits for the next two years”.

The report says that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) issued the college with an advisory letter on its minimum standards in 2015-16 “and it has previously had a Notice of Concern for minimum standards”.

But the report states: “The executive leadership team has moved quickly to put recovery and quality improvement actions in place and has worked hard to communicate clearly to the staff the issues and challenges the college faces and the immediate actions required.”

It adds: “Despite the college’s past underperformance, there is in our view the potential for rapid and sustained improvement which (if delivered) offers the prospect of a bright future as a standalone specialist land-based college.”

The report recommends that the college appoint “a permanent principal to drive forward the quality improvement plan; reverse the decline in financial health; and work with the board to develop a clear long-term vision and mission for the college”.

Working smarter and harder

In a letter to Mark Pendlington, the college’s chair of governors, released alongside the report, Anne Milton, the skills minister, said: “It is clear from the commissioner’s report that, following your recent appointment, you and your board now have a clear focus on the necessary actions required secure both quality and financial improvement, including the need to strengthen leadership”.

Easton and Otley College acting principal Jane Townsend, said, “Before the report in July 2017, in November 2013, Easton and Otley College was graded by Ofsted as ‘good’ and we are all working very hard to get back to those levels as quickly as possible. We have a new senior leadership team in place and by working smarter and harder, we are determined to turn this around – and we are making really good progress. Clearly the feedback we recently received shows we need to get better in certain areas and we appreciate this feedback as it helps galvanise us and allows us to focus on the issues that require improvement."

College chair Mark Pendlington added everyone was dedicated to the task. "Everyone passionately wants the same thing and that is to change lives positively through outstanding education and training. This is at the heart of everything we do for learners and leaders right across East Anglia and beyond.”

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Jonathan Owen

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