Provision at a land-based college in East Anglia is set to be split up as the institution merges with two colleges.
The proposed move follows a report and recommendation from FE commissioner Richard Atkins. It also comes after the college was judged "inadequate" in two Ofsted inspections, and placed in administered college status by skills minister Anne Milton.
Subject to public consultation and legal and financial due diligence, from January 2020 Easton and Otley College will see its Easton Campus become part of City College Norwich, and its Otley Campus join Suffolk New College.
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College judged 'inadequate'
According to the land-based college, the University of East Anglia and the College of West Anglia will be "close working partners", involved in supporting the delivery of further and higher education courses.
Last December, a report by FE commissioner Richard Atkins on the college found that “expectations of a significant improvement in student outcomes” had “not materialised and, in fact, achievement rates show no improvement”. “Alongside this, lesson observations confirm there is still too much poor teaching,” according to the report.
Easton and Otley College was initially issued with a notice of concern by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), following a May 2017 inspection, in which Ofsted judged overall effectiveness to be "inadequate". The college was subsequently referred to the FE commissioner (FEC) for formal intervention in the light of that judgement.
FE commissioner intervention
After an initial visit by the commissioner in July 2017, the chair of the board resigned and was replaced, the principal resigned and was replaced with an interim principal and additional external expertise was commissioned to work with all college staff.
An intervention report published in September 2017 recommended a range of actions, but a stock-take visit in February 2018 showed little progress. A further stock take took place in July 2018, when increasing concerns about the college’s long-term sustainability resulted in a recommendation for enhanced monitoring and review by the ESFA and the commissioner, and for the corporation to consider proceeding with a Structure and Prospects Appraisal (SPA).
In October 2018, a further Ofsted inspection found the college overall "inadequate" again.
'We have a clear direction'
Easton and Otley College principal Jane Townsend said: “We now have a clear direction for securing the future of land-based provision in the region. My team is fully committed to ensuring that during this period of transition, we will continue to drive improvements in the quality of teaching and learning, and at Easton and Otley it will be ‘business as usual’ for students as we teach and inspire the future leaders of our sector.”
She added: “Both Suffolk New College and City College Norwich have successful track records of driving quality improvement. We are now able to benefit from that experience through this collaboration; a model which has proved successful elsewhere in the country.”
'A tough couple of years'
Mark Pendlington, chair of Easton and Otley College, said it had been "a tough couple of years" as the college got itself in "the best possible shape" to make sure that land-based education survives and thrives well into the future.
“That work prepared the way to attract strong interest from a number of institutions who wanted to merge with us, and we now have an outcome that promises current and future students exciting new opportunities as they prepare for jobs and careers in the rapidly evolving world of work," he said.
“Make no mistake though, there remains much to do and we will continue our focus of building upon the progress already made. Together with our new college partners, we will be driving exciting new potential in technologies and applied sciences, working ever more closely with universities and researchers to lead the way internationally in showing what a modern, mobile and dynamic regional economy can deliver for UKplc."
'Exciting time for Suffolk'
Principal of Suffolk New College Viv Gillespie said: “We are determined to honour the agricultural and horticultural roots of the college by creating many exciting plans for the Otley campus, including the introduction of new land-based programmes – as well as further expansion in other areas such as construction."
Corrienne Peasgood, chief executive and principal of City College Norwich, added: “Together we have an ambitious, robust and realistic plan in place for bringing about the required changes, whilst ensuring that Easton and Otley College’s current and future students do not experience any disruption to their learning and are able to complete their courses and progress as planned.”