The issues behind the area review delays.

Issues with colleges’ “long-standing unsustainable debt” have been highlighted by the FE Commissioner as a key cause of hold-ups with post-16 education and skills area reviews.

Dr David Collins made the point in a letter, dated March 18 but published online by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills today, that went out to all chairs and principals of “corporations and FE institutions”.

It said the area reviews had so far been “a remarkably smooth process with corporations engaging fully in the new collaborative approach to provision”.

But he conceded: “Wave one has taken longer in some cases to come to a conclusion than was hoped, complicated by the devolution agenda and the fact that some of the more difficult areas were included.

“Communications within colleges with staff, unions and students as to the process and the benefits for learners and employers has been variable and could clearly be improved,” said Dr Collins. - FE Week

Mergers, federations and new companies

“Arising out of the discussions have been new mergers and federations, the formation of joint companies to deliver apprenticeships more effectively and shared services proposals, as well as a degree of rationalisation of provision where competition has led to inefficiencies rather than quality improvement.”

Debts, delays and room for improvement

“Not everything, of course, has gone completely to plan. Wave 1 has taken longer in some cases to come to a conclusion than was hoped, complicated by the devolution agenda and the fact that some of the more difficult areas were included. Communications within colleges with staff, unions and students as to the process and the benefits for learners and employers has been variable and could clearly be improved and the longstanding unsustainable debt positions of a few colleges have created delays while new solutions have been sought.”

Schools getting their own reviews

“In conjunction with the regional schools commissioners, many [local enterprise partnerships] and local authorities have also instigated a review of sixth-form provision in their area with a view to addressing examples of poor quality or financial viability as well as ensuring that over-provision of post-16 places does not cause an inefficient and unnecessary waste of resources.”

Grounds for optimism

“There are, of course, many area reviews that are still to be started but if waves 3 to 5 are entered into with the same enthusiasm and commitment as Waves 1 and 2, the future of the FE sector as a key driver in improving skills and productivity has probably never looked brighter.” - TES

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