Colleges take sides over merger proposal

18th April 2008 at 01:00

A Hampshire sixth form college threatened with being merged against its will with a further education college has become the centre of a battle between principals.

Sixth form colleges are angry after eight general FE institutions wrote in support of plans to create a pound;60 million super-campus by merging St Vincent sixth form college in Gosport with nearby Fareham College.

The general FE colleges claimed St Vincent has had unimpressive Ofsted reports - inspectors rated its provision as either "satisfactory" or "good", but criticised slow progress on improving exam pass rates.

The colleges also said the merger would bring economies of scale. They argued that the interests of individual colleges should be put aside to take advantage of an important opportunity.

But the 10 neighbouring sixth form institutions, which contributed letters of support for St Vincent in the merger consultation, say it was wrong for the college to have been criticised publicly by other principals.

Sue Whitham, head of secretariat at the Sixth Form Colleges Forum, said: "It is unfortunate the general FE colleges have got together to criticise one of the colleges involved. It's quite unfair to St Vincent."

The uncertainty over the future of St Vincent had already been damaging, she said, with the college having to try to convince the public of its long-term future in order to recruit students.

It is the second time that the Learning and Skills Council's south-eastern region has proposed the closure of a sixth form site against the wishes of the institution itself. A merger of Bexhill sixth form college and Hastings College in East Sussex was eventually scrapped when Jacqui Smith, then a schools minister, rejected the plans in 2005.

But the latest proposals would involve the first use of new powers due to be transferred to the Learning and Skills Council to intervene and close colleges.

Ms Whitham argued, however, that the policy context had changed, with the Government favouring an expansion in the number of sixth form colleges, rather than closing them.

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