There are currently 226 further education and sixth form colleges in England. This compares to almost 450 when colleges were incorporated in 1993.
Mergers since 2015
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 encouragement for mergers. The latest state of play is:
- 78 college-to-college mergers have taken place since 2015 (2 in 2015, 11 in 2016, 29 in 2017, 12 in 2018, 10 in 2019, 7 in 2020 (excludes 2 colleges that were broken up), 2 in 2021, 3 in 2022 and 2 so far in 2023)
- 1 more college-college mergers is currently planned for 2023 (involving three colleges) and 1 college is due to be closed
- 1 college attained University status and become a HE Corporation in 2018. It was designated as an FE institution under the FE and HE Act 1992
- 4 university-college mergers have taken place (2018, 2019 and two in 2021). In all cases (post merger) the college remains or was designated as an FE institution under the FE and HE Act 1992
- 2 colleges were broken up in 2020 and campuses transferred to 3 other colleges
- 29 sixth form colleges have converted to become 16-19 academies (17 in 2017, 3 in 2018, 5 in 2019, 1 in 2020, 3 in 2021)
- 2 more sixth form college have consulted on academisation - conversion dates TBC
- 1 sixth form college closed in 2022
Mergers over the last three 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 (every merger, demerger and transfer in the period from 1993 to 2023 is recorded in document below)
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.
- This Frontier Economics report provides a quantitative assessment of the impact of college mergers on improving college performance.
- A process evaluation of the further education (FE) area reviews that took place in 37 local areas across England between 2015 and 2017. This report considers views on the area reviews process and perceptions of its impact.
- The area review programme closed in March 2019 and this end of programme report has been produced to provide an account of its implementation.