A sixth-form college struggling with financial issues has been praised for pursuing a “positive” merger by skills minister Anne Milton.
A report into John Ruskin College in South London by the FE commissioner was published today, a week after it completed a merger with nearby East Surrey College to form the Orbital South Colleges group.
The college had been in early intervention by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) after its financial health dropped from “outstanding” in 2015-16 to “satisfactory” in 2017-18. Its overall Ofsted grade dropped from “outstanding” in 2013 to "requires improvement" in 2017.
Student numbers have also dropped. The report adds: “The college has been heavily reliant on apprenticeships funding with high levels of sub-contracting and was not successful in securing a non-levy allocation for new starts post-March 2018.”
College 'to be commended'
The college discontinued its A-level provision from September 2018.
However, the report says John Ruskin is “to be commended for its approach to tackling the weaknesses identified at their last Ofsted inspection.
“There is clear evidence that the actions they’ve taken are having a positive impact on the quality of provision and on student outcomes. However, leaders and managers at the college know that momentum must be stepped-up to ensure that all students achieve as well as they can and make the progress of which they are capable.”
'Significant decline in turnover'
The report adds that, as “a small college, John Ruskin College has done well to maintain healthy cash balances and manage down external debt”.
A letter published alongside the report confirmed that skills minister Anne Milton accepts all the report’s recommendations.
It adds: “It is clear from the commissioner’s report that despite the recent improvements in quality and the substantial reductions in the college’s cost base, the significant decline in turnover, substantial operating losses and the gradual erosion of cash reserves [show] there is need for structural change.” The minister “welcomes” the “positive” move to merge with East Surrey College.