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Minister ends college intervention – but only if it presses ahead with merger

Skills minister Nick Boles (pictured) warns Lowestoft College not to steer away from merger plans, as intervention by the FE commissioner is brought to an end

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A college has been brought out of formal intervention by the FE commissioner – but warned it could face further action if it does not press ahead with merger plans.

Lowestoft College in Suffolk has been monitored since March 2015 by commissioner Dr David Collins after his initial assessment identified a number of recommendations to improve its financial management, leadership and governance.

In a letter sent on 10 February but published online yesterday, skills minister Nick Boles writes that Lowestoft College has been removed from formal intervention, but that he reserves the right to "review" the decision should the college not proceed with “extremely positive” plans for a merger.

A merger with neighbouring Great Yarmouth College and Lowestoft Sixth-Form College was recommended following the pilot area review of post-16 provision in North-East Norfolk and North Suffolk last summer.

'Progress towards recovery'

In the letter to chair of the board Tina Ellis, Mr Boles writes: “I understand you are in advanced discussion with Great Yarmouth College and Lowestoft Sixth-Form College with a view to merging your three colleges into a single corporation during 2016. This is extremely positive and I would urge you to pursue this merger to a timely and satisfactory conclusion. The successful implementation of the review recommendations will set an excellent precedent for other reviews to follow. Therefore, on the basis that the college has made significant progress towards its recovery and that you are working towards merger, my decision is to now remove Lowestoft College from formal FE commissioner-led intervention.

"This decision is made on the clear understanding that the college will continue to progress implementation of the pilot area review to a successful conclusion. lt was a clear finding of the review that the sustainability of each of the individual institutions was dependent on merger. I would therefore need to review the decision if for an unforeseen reason the merger did not proceed. My officials will continue to monitor progress, both generally and towards the merger, which I regard as important for your future success and for learners and employers in the local area."

Lowestoft College has been contacted to comment on the letter.

Norfolk and Suffolk have been named in the fifth wave of area-based reviews, which will begin in September 2016. The purpose of the area review process is to assess the economic and educational needs of each region. Once an area review is started it will take approximately three to four months to complete, with the government expecting them all to have been completed by March 2017.

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