The Further Education Commissioner has outlined the challenges in implementing Area Reviews, despite some successful restructuring of post-16 institutions that have taken place.
In his 2016-17 annual report, Richard Atkins reports on his activity and on the health of the FE college sector, and provides some statistics on the Area Review process to date.
Between September 2015 and March 2017, all 332 colleges in England were visited, and 37 Area Reviews took place. It was agreed that 133 colleges would remain as standalone organisations. In the same period, only 23 General FE Colleges and 5 sixth-form college mergers took place, though further applications for restructuring are currently being processed.
According to the report, challenges in implementing Area Reviews include difficulties in reaching agreement on mergers at either senior leader or college governor level, and banks’ risk appetite for lending to organisations looking to merge.
The Commissioner warns colleges that opted to remain standalone in the course of the Area Review process, carefully continue to challenge their income assumptions, particularly in areas where colleges are competing to grow income, but where local demographics mean that this is not possible, given the number of colleges in the area.
Area Reviews of the post-16 education and training sector, first announced in 2015, aimed to create more financially stable and efficient providers and improved collaboration across different types of institution.