FIVE colleges in Cumbria are moving towards formal collaboration, in a process that will be overseen by an outside co-ordinator.
The move, which Cumbria's Learning and Skills Council executive director, Mick Farley, insists is not federation, follows recent reinspections of Furness and Kendal colleges.
Little improvement had been made at Furness, which in February was for the second time graded four - less than satisfactory - for governance, quality assurance, management and student support. Both colleges have since appointed new principals.
The colleges involved are Carlisle, West Cumbria, Furness, Kendal and Barrow's sixth-form college. Investigations into possible collaboration began last year, following a county-wide assessment of further education by accountants KPMG.
The structure being considered is one where the co-ordinator reports to a board of college principals. At first it will be a one-year pound;90,000 project. The Further Education Funding Council rationalisation fund will provide pound;40,000, the colleges pound;25,000, and the rest should come from the LSC's loal initiative fund.
Paul Hafren, principal of West Cumbria College, Workington, admits there has been mixed reaction from staff. "Some can see the sense, but others thought it could make a lot of extra work or lead to loss of autonomy," he said.
"It's not about trying to relocate the curriculum - that wouldn't be practical in a county the size of Cumbria. But if we can learn to share best practice, staff development and get a quality framework, then there is a lot of potential.
"We're looking for someone who can relate to the LSC, principals and middle management and draw everything together, and also someone with business acumen."
Mr Farley said: "There is no suggestion of having a super-principal. But there is recognition that if greater collaboration is to happen, then someone will need to drive it.
"It is felt there would be a benefit from having external help. This could be someone seconded from a college or from my staff. Everything is being done with the closest co-operation of the colleges and a common aim of working in the best interest."