There are currently 325 further education and sixth form colleges in England. This compares to almost 450 when colleges were incorporated in 1993.
In 2015, the Government announced its national programme of area reviews of colleges. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Department for Education (DfE) guidance published said that area reviews are:
“likely to result in rationalised curriculum; fewer, larger and more financially resilient organisations; and, where practicable, shared back office functions and curriculum delivery systems.”
This implies mergers, demergers, federations, shared services and other structural changes. This page provides the latest information on college mergers walong with support documents for colleges.
There are currently large numbers of merger discussions and consultations. Three mergers took place between January and July 2016; another seven took effect in August 2016 and another 13 may take place during the 2016-17 academic year. Meanwhile three National Colleges have or are incorporating as FE corporations in 2016. A large number of sixth form colleges are also contemplating conversion to 16-19 academy status though there have not yet been any completed applications. This three page document contains the latest available information (correct as at 8 August 2016) and is subject to change.
The connection between area reviews and college mergers is explained in this one page note
College mergers since 1993
The merger consultation process for Type A and Type B mergers
Mergers between English colleges involve a bit of jargon which describes the form they take. Mergers can either be “Type A” or “Type B”. This classification was invented by Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) officials in the 1990s when they were describing the different ways in which mergers could take place. The definitions are:
- Type A merger takes place where all the existing corporations are dissolved and a new one created (a double or triple dissolution plus a new incorporation).
- Type B merger takes place where one corporation continues and the others are dissolved with the staff, assets and liabilities transferring into it (a single dissolution)
Type B mergers (single dissolution) have been used in 80% of standard college-to-college mergers and are increasingly common because they provide more continuity in terms of contracts and can be completed faster. Only two of the 16 mergers completed since April 2012 have been Type A mergers.
Colleges are statutory corporations and need to carry out a public consultation before they enter into a merger. The Skills Funding Agency has produced a useful document which summarises the consultation requirements
AoC advice notes
Mergers are only one aspect of organisational change in colleges. Colleges have joined federations, shared services, bought companies, taken over charities, sponsored academies and transferred into other sectors. This paper summarises some of the history and the issues that have come up in these changes
Mergers are complicated projects for colleges because of they operate in a changing and demanding environment, deal with a large number of stakeholders and regulators and need to focus on the needs of thousands of students. College leaders find that mergers are not for the faint-hearted. This document (which does not represent legal advice) summarises some of the issues involved in a merger. It was assembled by AoC's Julian Gravatt on the basis of daily work in AoC and conversations with colleagues, college staff and officials who have recently completed mergers including Matt Atkinson, Jean Inker, Chris Payne, Liz Phillip, Christina Sadler, Education Funding Agency (EFA), Skills Funding Agency (SFA), BIS and FE advisers. The document does not replace the need for legal advice. Policies and processes may change.
A powerpoint presentation summarising some of these issues (used at AoC's Finance conference in May 2016) is available here