This House of Commons Library briefing provides information on the area reviews of post-16 education and training announced by the Government in July 2015.Jump to full report >>
In a written ministerial statement on 20 July 2015, the Skills Minister, Nick Boles, announced plans for “a restructuring of the post-16 education and training sector, through a series of area based reviews of provision.” The Government expects that a phased series of 37 reviews, covering all further education (FE) and sixth form colleges in England, will take place in five waves over an eighteen month period, with recommendations from reviews in the final phase being agreed by March 2017.
The Government expects the area reviews to “enable a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers, and more effective collaboration across institution types.”
Each review will be led and overseen by a ‘local steering group’ consisting of chairs of governors, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), local authorities, FE and Sixth-Form College Commissioners and Regional School Commissioners. Reviews start by assessing the educational and economic needs of the area before evaluating institutional options to meet that need. The options could include, among other things, greater specialisation, mergers or closures of institutions.
Institutions are responsible for deciding whether to accept any recommendations arising from a review, but the Government expects them to take action in light of a review’s findings. Colleges, local authorities and LEPs will be responsible in the first instance for funding any changes resulting from the reviews, but the Government has made some funding available in the form of transition grants and via a restructuring facility. The administrative process of the review itself is funded by the Government.
Following a number of initial delays, the reports of reviews in the first three waves have now been published and are available at: Further education area reviews: policy and reports.
In written evidence to the Education Committee in September 2016, the DfE stated that the reviews in waves 1 and 2 had agreed “a broad range of recommendations” covering collaboration between colleges; the academisation of sixth-form colleges, rationalisation of curriculum; and restructuring and mergers between colleges. In October 2016, the FE Commissioner, Sir David Collins, stated that he expected between 50 and 80 mergers in total from the area review process. He additionally stated that he expected “maybe just over half, maybe two-thirds” of sixth form colleges to go into the academisation programme.
There have been some concerns raised about the area review process, including that some post-16 institutions, including school sixth forms, 16-19 free schools and University Technical Colleges, are not included in the reviews. In response, the Government has stated that such institutions can opt-in to the reviews if they wish and that Regional Schools Commissioners will identify any issues with such provision as part of the review process. Questions have also been raised about the impact of a high number of college mergers, including on students in rural locations who may have to travel further to study. On the other hand, some stakeholders have expressed concerns regarding a perceived lack of change resulting from the area review process.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7357
Author: David Foster