Post-16 - Lanarkshire hokey-cokey ends in a threesome

30th August 2013 at 01:00
Coatbridge reverses decision to stay out of multi-college group

It was in, it was out, now it's back in again: Coatbridge College has rejoined the merger of Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges in the latest U-turn to affect the regionalisation process in Lanarkshire.

The college had pulled out of the merger plans in February, only weeks after joining, saying that no effort had been made by Cumbernauld and Motherwell to include it in the process. A spokesman for Coatbridge also told TESS at the time that its concerns over governance had not been addressed.

But all that appears to be behind them now, with the announcement that Cumbernauld and Motherwell will merge to form New College Lanarkshire in November, with Coatbridge joining them in April next year.

Martin McGuire, principal designate of the merged college, welcomed the development, saying it would benefit the "people of Lanarkshire as a whole".

But while these three institutions join forces, another one in the region - South Lanarkshire College - has chosen to stay out of the merger process.

The move raises questions about the regionalisation policy, which is designed to make provision more efficient and to avoid duplication of courses.

Apart from Lanarkshire, the only other multi-college regions in Scotland will be in Glasgow, which will be made up of three large merged colleges, and the Highlands and Islands, because it is so spread out.

David Belsey, national officer for further and higher education at the Educational Institute of Scotland union, said it had been "unexpected" that Lanarkshire would become a multi-college region. "It does illustrate the consequences of the college merger progress being voluntary," he said.

Unlike in single-college regions, where the college board is the governing body, multi-college regions will require an additional body to oversee governance and funding.

This means that the situation in Lanarkshire is likely to create extra bureaucracy and costs - exactly what regionalisation was supposed to reduce.

"We will have to see how things develop when the regional strategic body and the assigned colleges start working together," Mr Belsey said.

South Lanarkshire College insisted from the start that although it is committed to working in federation with its fellow colleges, it did not want to merge.

The government has so far refused to force colleges in Scotland to merge, and allowed regions to decide how to organise their provision. But TESS understands that the bodies in charge of multi-college regions will have significant powers that could yet push through mergers.

But Stewart McKillop, principal of South Lanarkshire, contended that a looser federation, rather than a merger, was the best way forward. "That view is shared by our colleagues at New College Lanarkshire," he added.

He said the college was "happy with Lanarkshire continuing to be a multi-college region" and was "not alone in that. I think the solutions are different for every region."

Coatbridge may have rejected a merger earlier this year, but in 2011 the college submitted plans for a merger of all four Lanarkshire colleges to the Scottish Funding Council. At the time, the proposal was rejected by the other colleges, which then announced plans for a federation.

A year later, Coatbridge joined those federation negotiations. But Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges then announced plans to merge in January 2013, and left the door open for Coatbridge and South Lanarkshire to become involved.

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