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FE sector in 'fragile' state, admits education secretary

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Education secretary Nicky Morgan has admitted the FE sector is in a “fragile” state, but said the area-based reviews of post-16 provision would help make colleges more “robust”.

Ms Morgan was answering questions at the education select committee this morning, when Gateshead’s Labour MP Ian Mearns raised the “looming concern” of a financial crisis in post-16 education.

She replied: “We are aware the FE sector is, I think, fragile is probably the way to put it. That’s why we have started these area-based reviews.”

Ms Morgan said the reviews would help colleges to be “robust and in the best of financial health”.

The government announced yesterday that the next two area reviews would focus on Greater Manchester and the Sheffield city region, following the already-announced review of provision in Birmingham and Solihull.

Committee member Kate Osamor, Labour MP for Edmonton, suggested the reviews were “flawed” because they only included FE and sixth-form colleges, and not free schools and academies with sixth-form provision.

Ms Morgan said the “critical issue” that had been brought to the government’s attention was around provision in FE and sixth-form colleges, but urged all post-16 providers to take part in the reviews.

But Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said all provision should be taken into account in the reviews, including university technical colleges and 16-19 free schools, some of which are struggling to recruit to full numbers and to maintain quality.

Responding to the guidance issued by the government yesterday, he said: “It would also be unreasonable and illogical for the government to allow more new sixth forms and other post-16 education to be created during the course of the reviews, especially with the number of 16 to 18-year-olds declining significantly over the next few years."

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