The cradle of co-operation
The college had long provided childcare for as many of its adult students as it could. When money became available under the Government's City Challenge scheme, the local borough council gave additional support for students' childcare. At the same time, CUWTEC, as the Chester, Ellesmere Port and Wirral TEC is known, was funding after-school care for the children of adult trainees.
These measures were helping parents while they were learning, but there was also a need to provide them with childcare support when they went into their first, usually low-paid, jobs.
To meet this need and strengthen existing provision, the Wirral Childcare Strategy was launched, drawing on the expertise and resources of the college, the TEC and the council.
The childcare strategy is an example of how the close working relationship between these three bodies has paid off. This relationship began developing in the run-up to incorporation when CUWTEC, the two FE colleges in its patch and the local sixth-form college put together a corporate plan which identified areas of common interest.
Jenny Shackleton, principal of Wirral Metropolitan College, says: "I think that was very useful early piece of planning because it tied us into a broad ethos of good practice and mutual support".
The co-operation between the various players in Wirral's post-16 education almost replicates the role the local education authority used to play before incorporation, though Ms Shackleton stresses that the three colleges and the TEC are independent organisations with complementary but different roles.
Some of the most useful results of collaboration between the TEC and Wirral Metropolitan College have been in education-business partnership. Money from the TEC and local employers has, for example, enabled the college to do some pilot work on linking local schools with its own information technology network.
Where the benefits of TEC-college co-operation are harder to realise, according to Ms Shackleton, is in national training schemes for young people and unemployed adults where funding restrictions leave little room for innovation. "In those mainstream areas we find ways of getting by, but we don't have many outcomes to shout about", she says.
Unlike some colleges, Wirral Metropolitan College does not view its local TEC as a rival. But the potential for conflict exists in the TEC's strategic role. As a much larger organisation, the college has a strategic capability of its own and this tends to unbalance the relationship with the TEC.