There are currently 288* further education and sixth form colleges in England. This compares to almost 450 when colleges were incorporated in 1993.
(* Note this figure will decrease once we confirm the sixth form college conversions to academy status - potentially 12 taking effect between now and October 2017)
Mergers in 2017
Since the 2015 general election, there has been an increase in the number of college mergers and a new option for sixth form colleges to convert to become 16-19 academies. The government's post 16 area review programme required every college to consider their future and provided official encouragment for mergers. The latest state of play is:
- 1 college-to-college merger took place in 2015
- 11 mergers took place in 2016
- 22 mergers have taken place in 2017 so far - 15 of them in August
- 9 mergers are planned for the remainder of the year
- 5 mergers are planned for early 2018 and 4 university-college mergers are also under discussion (2017/18 or 2018/19 implementation)
- 13 sixth form colleges have converted to become 16-19 academies
- 12 more sixth form colleges have consulted on conversion or are in the process of making applications to take effect between September and October 2017
This is unlikely to be the end of the process but the position for 2017 is recorded in this document which was up to date as at 8 September 2017
Mergers over the last two decades
Colleges were incorporated in 1993 and given self governing corporate status. There were 427 colleges at that point
There have been waves of merger in the years since incorporation:
This list records every merger, demerger and transfer in the period from 1993 to 2017
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 (April 2016)
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.