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College merger to go ahead despite two-thirds against plans

PUBLISHED: 14:11 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:11 04 July 2018

Stuart Rimmer, principal at East Coast College, and David Gartland, Lowestoft Sixth Form College principal. Picture: Four Agency

Stuart Rimmer, principal at East Coast College, and David Gartland, Lowestoft Sixth Form College principal. Picture: Four Agency

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Plans to merge the best performing college in the country with another which Ofsted says ‘requires improvement’ will continue despite two-thirds of respondents to a consultation saying they are against the proposal.

Lowestoft Sixth Form College principal David Gartland.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft Sixth Form College principal David Gartland. Picture: Nick Butcher

This comes after 24 members of the NASUWT teaching union at Lowestoft Sixth Form College (L6FC) started six days of strike action last week over potential restructuring following any merger between the sixth form and East Coast College (ECC).

The merger was recommended in August 2017 by the Further Education commissioner as the only way to “safeguard sixth form provision” in Lowestoft, and comes only a year after Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft colleges merged into the current East Coast College.

Of the 150 people who answered the consultation, 99 were against the merger, with concerns over the impact on staff, students, the identity and culture of L6FC, and the quality and reputation of the college,

L6FC is the top performing sixth form college in the country, based on performance tables for student progress score on A level and academic performance, while ECC’s most recent Ofsted report published last week described the college as requiring improvement.

One comment in the consultation said: “Can the governors, hand on heart, really believe this is a good outcome for L6FC and all the previous hard work that has been put into making it the success it is today, and can they explain the full reasoning behind this?”

Another added: “Why would a sixth form college which has been graded as good by Ofsted join a college that has been graded as requires improvement for four consecutive inspections?”

In the response, the college states: “There will be a combined Ofsted judgement across the newly formed ECC and L6FC will be able to make a positive contribution to that.”

The response also states that L6FC will retain a high level of autonomy, enabling it to retain its ethos and identity and to allow for minimal job losses at the college.

With the main driver behind the merger being financial savings, the response adds: “Savings on non-pay will be achieved through efficiencies and greater purchasing power as part of a larger organisation e.g. procurement across the whole organisation.”

The final decision over the merger is yet to be made, but the consultation document states that the planned completion date for the merger of August 1, 2018 is still the target.

College reaction

David Gartland, principal of Lowestoft Sixth Form College, said: “The success of Lowestoft Sixth Form College is fully recognised and it is proposed that a high level of autonomy would be afforded to the college to enable this to continue.

“The college would retain its unique identity under the leadership of a designated Sixth Form College principal, providing reassurance that the high-quality delivery would remain.

He added: “Although Lowestoft Sixth Form College would be part of a larger organisation, providing financial resilience, the day to day running of the college would very much remain the same.

“The quality of education that Lowestoft Sixth Form College provides remains the top priority and retaining excellent sixth form provision is essential. Merging with East Coast College provides the best possible chance of retaining this.”

Union reaction

Keith Anderson, regional organiser for NASUWT who has helped organise the strikes at L6FC, said: “We haven’t got anything in writing to reassure out members and this document does the opposite really.”

Part of the concerns of the striking teachers surround the difference between terms and conditions between sixth form and further education employee contract, with a lecturer at an FE college believed to be paid around £5,000 less than the equivalent sixth form teacher.

Mr Anderson added: “If the statements about retaining the uniqueness and culture of L6FC are the case, then our arguments are that the existing staff should be paid and employed on sixth form terms and conditions and that would alleviate a lot of the concerns of our members.

“We are of course willing to meet with management and to continue to discuss ways to resolve our strike action. It is not something we want to continue and teachers do not take strike action lightly, it demonstrates their genuine concern and anger about the impact of this merger on their students and the local community.”

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