The next two area reviews will focus on Greater Manchester and the Sheffield City Region, the government announced today.
The Manchester review will include 10 FE colleges and 11 sixth-form colleges, while the Sheffield review will take in eight FE colleges and two sixth-form colleges.
A review of provision in Birmingham and Solihull has already been announced, and further area reviews will be announced shortly, the government said.
The reviews are designed to lead to fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers and more effective collaboration between different institutions. Official guidance on the review process, also published today, urges providers to take a “visionary approach, thinking strategically about options for the benefit of the area as a whole matched to local economic and educational needs, local outcome agreements and government priorities such as apprenticeships and high quality technical routes”.
They are also encouraged to display “open-mindedness to change for the greater good, irrespective of vested interests and personal preferences”.
Each review will start by assessing the economic and educational needs of the area, and the implications for post-16 education and training provision, including school sixth forms, sixth-form colleges, further education colleges and independent providers. The reviews will then focus on the current structure of FE and sixth form colleges.
In a guidance document, also published today, skills minister Nick Boles urges every college to take part. “Given the challenging financial context, it is important the reviews happen quickly so that implementation can begin as soon as possible,” he writes.
Mr Boles expects the final reviews to be complete by March 2017, and says it is essential that areas reviews consider the outcome of the forthcoming pending review, warning that in many cases the “status quo will not be an option if colleges are to live within their means”.
“Ultimately we would expect funding agencies and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) only to fund institutions that are taking action to ensure they can provide a good quality offer to learners and employers, which is financially sustainable for the long term,” he adds.
The guidance also makes it clear that colleges, LEPs and local authorities with devolved skills funding will be expected to foot the bill for any structural changes resulting from the reviews. Government finance will only be provided “as a last resort”, it adds.