News & Views

Tackling the challenges faced by further education together

News & Views


By Andrew Barbé, SPAs & Data Analyst specialist at FEA

Members of senior leadership teams might not feel they are ready or interested in the dating game, but it’s starting to feel like they’ve been placed in the market for a civil partnership.

A number of colleges that have for years been content to remain free and single are now coming under external pressure through Area Reviews to seek a suitable partner.

Many are likely to end up in what could be seen as an arranged marriage scenario as the Government pursues its drive towards “fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient colleges” in the further education and skills sector.

In theory, you can stay on your own – the guidance from Skills Minister Nick Boles says that governing bodies have the final say on any proposed merger – but the hard financial facts, means at the very least co-habitation should be considered. 

For those organisations who have not been set up yet, it is a good strategy to think about whether you need pre Area Review support or to carry out an independent Structure and Prospects Appraisal (SPA).

Colleges that prepare themselves in this way will be in the best position to navigate their way through their review, confident that they can show that they are ‘responsive to local employer needs and economic priorities’ in the geographical area that really matters to them.

Considering financial viability, learner and labour market intelligence, student and employer demand, together with curriculum duplication, synergy, standards and suitability of potential partners.

Such an appraisal will show that you have taken steps to understand the needs of your local labour market and that you are responding adequately to those needs and have confidence in what you have to offer.

A few tips: 

  • Don't try to be all things to all people. Think about what you are good at and put this at the centre of your offer
  • Look at the local talent and assess suitable partners 
  • Ask yourself what you want out of a long-term relationship and how you can effectively get this
  • Take an honest look in the mirror. Are your class sizes/staff numbers viable? Are you wasting money on competitive marketing, rather than collaborating? 
  • Determine what savings can really be made by collaboration and what affect will it have on the “children” and their life chances 
  • Look forward, not backwards. Focus on the future and get the right people around you to carry your through.

And if you still think you can be fancy free, even when Dr Collins says: “The truth of the matter is that there is clearly not enough money for the sector to continue as it is and rationalisation and collaboration is the new order of the day”.

In other words, it’s still a good idea to make robust financial plans for life on your own, which provides more freedom, but could ultimately come with a bigger bill.

Andrew Barbé is a Structure and Prospects Appraisal advisor & Data Analyst specialist at FEA, bringing together FE Associates and BW Consultants.



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