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    In 2015 the Government set out its approach to restructuring the further education sector, which involves 37 area reviews of post-16 provision.

    The aim of the reviews was to create strong and financially resilient colleges which are specialised centres of expertise able to work together to produce the skilled workers that local businesses need.

    Reviews were supposed to start by assessing the economic and educational needs of the area, and the implications for post-16 education and training provision, including:

    • school sixth forms
    • sixth-form colleges
    • further education (FE) colleges
    • independent providers

    The reviews then aimed to concentrate on further education and sixth-form colleges. Other institutions (including schools and independent providers) can ask to opt in to an area review and be part of any potential restructuring.

    The original intention had the potential to transform further education in Greater Manchester by allowing strong local colleges offering high performing courses together with a mature debate on the role of specialisms to meet the demands of our economy, and our shared ambition for the future.

    From early on into the process the review has been mired in mistrust and manipulation. Plans have been changed with little rationale other than what would appear to be some colleges and local authorities changing course to suit local circumstance without proper consideration to the impact on neighbouring providers or the original endeavour to create a coherent network across Greater Manchester.  

    Matters have been made worse by the interventions of the FE Commissioner, who has sought to direct “solutions” without transparency for local or national politicians, and without any reference to a wider plan for change in the City Region. 

    Jim McMahon100x100Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton, said: “Area based reviews did have the potential to transform further education in Greater Manchester. There is undoubtedly a need to match further education with the skills demanded from local economies. And of course we want to see stable colleges laying the foundations for young people’s careers.

    “But the government has some gall promoting strong and financially stable colleges, whilst colleges are hit with a barrage of cuts and poorly thought through national policy changes.

    “The Government has been heavy handed with local colleges, and the Further Education Commissioner has made matters worse by intervening directly without transparency from local and national politicians, and without referencing the wider plan for the City Region.”

    “There is no point in devolution if Greater Manchester simply dances to the tune of disconnected civil servants. We need strong political leadership to deliver a fair and balanced review which starts and ends at the best outcomes for learners in the city region.”

    Letter written by Jim McMahon to illicit support for scrapping the Greater Manchester area based review…

    I am writing to enlist your support in calling for the immediate scrapping of the Area Based Review and of proposals for structural change among Further Education in Greater Manchester.

    The original intention had the potential to transform further education in Greater Manchester by allowing strong local colleges offering high performing courses together with a mature debate on the role of specialisms to meet the demands of our economy, and our shared ambition for the future.

    From early on into the process the review has been mired in mistrust and manipulation. Plans have been changed with little rationale other than what would appear to be some colleges and local authorities changing course to suit local circumstance without proper consideration to the impact on neighbouring providers or the original endeavour to create a coherent network across Greater Manchester.  Matters have been made worse by the interventions of the FE Commissioner, who has sought to direct “solutions” without transparency for local or national politicians, and without any reference to a wider plan for change in the City Region. 

    The intense and unreasonable push from central government is not driven by striving for better outcomes for learners in Greater Manchester. Instead it recognises the fragile financial position many colleges find themselves in following a barrage of cuts and poorly though through national policy changes. There is a good reason colleges are faced with such huge financial pressures and the blame lays solely at the door of government. The proposal to merge some college will not make them financially better off, instead it increases the risk of major failure, threatens to disrupt improvements and diminish the experience of learners.

    If the review is not cancelled and a strong stance taken from Greater Manchester in terms of local solutions and local accountability,  I foresee it being hugely disruptive at best, if not open to costly legal challenge which would further erode local relationships and trust. No one will win.

    There is no point in devolution if Greater Manchester simply dances to the tune of disconnected civil servants. This requires strong political leadership to scrap this resented process and conduct a fair and balanced review which starts and ends at the best outcomes for learners in the city region.

    Greater Manchester was part of Wave 1 of area based reviews, and included the following:

    FE colleges:

    • Bolton College
    • Bury College
    • Hopwood Hall College
    • Salford City College
    • Stockport College
    • Tameside College
    • The Manchester College
    • The Oldham College
    • Trafford College
    • Wigan and Leigh College

    Sixth-form colleges:

    • Aquinas College
    • Ashton-Under-Lyne Sixth Form College
    • Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College
    • Holy Cross College
    • Xaverian College
    • Loreto College
    • Oldham Sixth Form College
    • St John Rigby RC Sixth Form College
    • Rochdale Sixth Form College
    • Winstanley Sixth Form College
    • Bolton Sixth Form College

    Local authorities and LEPs:

    • Greater Manchester combined authority representing:
      • Bolton council
      • Bury council
      • Manchester city council
      • Oldham council
      • Rochdale council
      • Salford city council
      • Stockport council
      • Tameside council
      • Trafford council
      • Wigan council
    • Greater Manchester LEP

    First meeting of the local steering group: Monday 21 September 2015
    Chair of the local steering group: Theresa Grant, Chief Executive of Trafford city council
    Area review team lead: John Barber

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