College Area Reviews have caused a lot of angst in the FE sector: some have even described them as flawed, as they only focus on FE and Sixth Form Colleges. You only had to be at the AOC conference in November to see that the area reviews and funding cuts are currently the two biggest concerns of the sector.

However, the reviews aren’t all doom and gloom. They could result in a much needed boost for the FE sector, including:

  • Creating or developing institutions which are financially viable, sustainable, resilient and efficient, and delivering maximum value for public investment
  • Ensuring local education facilities meet the area’s educational and economic needs
  • Increase in providers with strong reputations and greater specialisation
  • Allowing sufficient access to high quality and relevant education and training for all

Despite the possible benefits, the jury is still out on what the effect of college mergers will be, as Protocol’s Chief Operating Officer Ian Sackree warns:

“Federations and mergers always come at great cost and can take several years to deliver benefits. Whatever you think the project will cost, add some more and lower the expectation! Larger organisations require more expensive people and bigger and better systems and there is plenty of evidence that suggests that releasing real savings (without significant upfront investment) from mergers is a challenge. Bolting two or more poor performing organisations together runs the risk of producing one large poor performing college, with inadequate systems….so proceed with caution and ensure that there is a very clear and jointly owned picture of what success looks like.”                         Continue reading…

Nonetheless, the timetable has been finalised and the reviews are in full flow, although the recommendations from the first wave have been put back to the end of March. A delay is not necessarily a bad thing – more time and thought should mean a better end result for the sector.

Future waves of reviews – which should be up and running by November 2016 – could bring complications for the colleges involved, which could include:

  • Obscurity around exactly what a review involves
  • Tight and possibly unrealistic timescales
  • Difficulty in gaining accurate view of the local economy
  • Measuring local demand in order to map courses effectively
  • Deciding how to articulate college value and local contribution

Some colleges may be concerned about the increase in workload, and the lack of in house specialist knowledge they might need to avoid falling short.

Interim expertise and support could be a logical short term solution to ensure organisations set themselves up for a successful and prosperous future. And of course – you guessed it – this is where the team and I come in!

Protocol- Excellence in FE has a hand-picked selection of interim specialist senior leaders, with experience in a wide variety of areas, who could bring vital support your organisation. Extra capacity and expertise could give you a real edge, both during the area reviews and further ahead.  Give me a ring if you think this could be the right approach to help you get through this time – stronger and better!

David Beynon is the Head of Interim and Management Recruitment at Protocol-Excellence in FE with over 13 years experience in FE and recruitment and an additional 19 years within the banking industry.  

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