A number of FE and sixth-form colleges facing “significant challenges” are planning closer collaboration after a government review.
In a statement, Great Yarmouth College, Lowestoft College and Lowestoft Sixth Form College say they have begun discussions of how to enhance post-16 education in the area.
The colleges say they will be “exploring opportunities” in how closer collaboration could “increase and enhance” FE, apprenticeships and degree courses.
East Norfolk and Paston sixth-form colleges are also seeking to “strengthen” their existing partnership.
The moves come after all five colleges featured in a pioneering area review of post-16 education in North-East Norfolk and North Suffolk by the FE and sixth-form college commissioners, David Collins and Peter Mucklow.
The government announced on Monday that area reviews of post-16 provision would be expanded nationwide, with the ultimate aim of creating “fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers”.
The North-East Norfolk and North Suffolk report says all five colleges face similar issues, including limited transport routes, demographic decline, competition from other post-16 providers and “significant” financial challenges.
Although four out of the five are rated good by Ofsted, with Lowestoft College requiring improvement, the report says there is still work to do to “ensure consistency of provision and support the drive towards outstanding”.
It recommends that a full partnership (either hard federation or merger) between the five is the only way to achieve the critical mass of students and economies of scale required to make cost savings and to build and sustain excellent provision. A “soft collaboration model”, the report warns, will not deliver the level of change and savings needed.
However, the principals of Great Yarmouth College, Lowestoft College and Lowestoft Sixth Form College say they “remain committed to maintaining the individual strengths and specialisms at each college".
Their joint statement says: “Additionally, all will explore and agree a joint vision, designed to better serve the needs and aspirations of young people and ensure a skilled, local workforce for the future of both emerging and established industries across the region.
“This is the start of what could become a long-term project as suitable collaboration opportunities are discussed and agreed.”