While colleges are independent corporations free to make their own decisions, any major changes – not least mergers – require governing bodies to hold a public consultation.
Quite how much impact these go on to have is open to debate.
Writing in TES back in May, Rob Peutrell, an Esol and learning support teacher and a founder member of Tutor Voices, argued that, in the case of the consultation over plans to merge Nottingham’s two FE colleges, the proposals were a “done deal”. He added that campaigners had argued that “the consultation isn’t a serious attempt to engage with the merger or the kind of FE needed in the local area”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, for those who agree with Peutrell’s stance, the merger between New College Nottingham and Central College Nottingham has now been approved. The new Nottingham College will be created on 1 August.
But how much interest was there in the consultation process itself? Considering the importance of the decision and the massive implications for the city, the colleges must have been swamped with submissions, right?
Well, not exactly. The consultation received a measly 241 responses (103 supported the plan, 89 were unsure and 49 were against the merger). Considering that the new institution will boast 40,000 learners and a turnover of £80 million, the number of responses appears distinctly underwhelming.
By way of comparison, the consultation on the proposed merger between Prior Pursglove College and Stockton Sixth-Form College – two significantly smaller sixth-form colleges in the North East – attracted 303 responses.
But before chiefs in Nottingham start to feel too disappointed, it’s worth remembering that it could have been worse. The consultation on plans to merge Somerset College and Bridgwater College attracted a spectacular 32 responses. “These came from a wide range of organisations and individuals,” the official response explains.
FErret can’t help but feel compelled to point out that, with the best will in the world, the range of responses can’t have been that wide…