Accrington and Rossendale and Nelson and Colne Colleges
To receive a presentation from Amanda Melton, Principal, Accrington and Rossendale and Nelson and Colne Colleges, about the vision and progress of the new merged college for Pennine Lancashire, which has been operating since 30 November 2018.
Members received a presentation by Amana Melton, Chief Executive, Accrington and Rossendale and Nelson and Colne Colleges, about the vision and progress of the new merged college for Pennine Lancashire.
Ms Melton outlined the merger of the colleges with effect from 1 December 2018 and explained that although the corporate body was Nelson and Colne College, both Accrington and Rossendale College and Nelson and Colne College were equal partners and would retain their separate identities. The group also encompassed Lancashire Adult Learning, which had been taken on board by Nelson and Colne College in 2016. That body looked at working with partners to provide development opportunities for adults in need.
The background to the merger with Accrington and Rossendale College was the difficult financial position experienced by that college, in the wake of borrowing for investments, which had not ultimately improved the number of students on roll. The college had found it difficult to reduce its costs and had also suffered as a result of declining funding for adult education. A proposed merger with Burnley College had not come to fruition.
Subsequently, central Government had approached Nelson and Colne College to develop a partnership and some funding had been provided to address the legacy financial issues. Ms Melton was optimistic that the Accrington and Rossendale College was now on a firm financial footing. The meeting today was important to the college, because it would be reliant on the support of key local partners, such as the Borough Council, to be successful.
Ms Melton outlined her own background. She had been Principal at Nelson and Colne College for some 7½ years. It was one of the highest performing Colleges in the country across several metrics. The college had a strong relationship with Pendle Borough Council and the local community. It had also established a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), the Pendle Education Trust, which included Colne Primet Academy, Pendle Primary Academy and other local schools, which were highly successful. It was hoped to replicate those levels of partnership working and successes within both Accrington and Rossendale College and Lancashire Adult Learning.
The funding secured for Accrington and Rossendale College would help to address some in-year financial pressures and the pension deficit. In addition, costs were being reduced. Across the whole college group there was a turnover of around £30M and next year’s budget would create a small surplus. The new leadership of Accrington and Rossendale College wished to increase the college’s market share of new students and to repair any reputational damage. The college had been strong in the past and was already on the way back to a position of strength.
An improvement programme was being developed which would support three main themes:
· Improving the quality of education – addressing the challenges in the region, such as poor Maths skills and lack of preparedness for work;
· Provision of academic qualifications;
· Growing the higher education offer with part-time courses leading to HNC and HND level qualifications for people already in work.
The approach would also build upon experience that Nelson and Colne College had developed though its partnerships with Burnley FC, Calico Homes and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. The Council was asked to think about who were the largest employers in Hyndburn. Accrington and Rossendale College would work with large employers to produce memoranda of understanding.
Overall there was a need to work collaboratively with other colleges to manage oversupply in the region.
Ms Melton had recently been appointed to the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and was Chair of the Lancashire Skills and Employment Advisory Panel. Although it was early days yet, she hoped to be able to influence investment in skills in the region. Ms Melton was also a member of the Council of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce. A dialogue with the Borough Council was essential to ensure the future economic success of the area.
The Leader of the Council commented that all residents would wish to see improvements in the prosperity of the Borough, which would be driven through quality primary, secondary and tertiary education. It was hoped that Accrington and Rossendale College would be able to engage not only with large scale employers, but also with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and that that would stimulate the growth of the manufacturing base within the region.
Questions were asked by Members present and answers given, on the following matters:
Given the possible oversupply of provision, would the college site remain in Accrington? - Around £3.5m was due to be invested to transform and update the site to make it fit for purpose. This would include the levelling of one building and upgrading of standards in the remaining buildings. It was estimated that the site improvements alone would lead to a 15% increase in student numbers. Works had already been commissioned for improvements to heating and lighting and IT infrastructure. The group’s central administrative offices would relocate to the Accrington and Rossendale College site. Improvements were planned for the Construction Centre to improve its attractiveness to students and to create a central hub for Lancashire. Tim Webber MBE, Chair and Managing Director, Barnfield Construction, would join the Board to provide experience and help to build links to the construction sector. The college would be rebranded as Accrington and Rossendale Technical College. However, the timescale for remodelling was challenging, with Government funding required to be committed by March 2020 and construction completed by March 2021.
What was the reason for the loss of the Catering Department at the college, given that it had earned a good reputation? - The catering provision had not gone, but would refocus on support for apprenticeships in that sector, as the current trend was for those students to go straight into employment, so as to earn money while learning. Provision would still be available for people with learning disabilities to serve food in the college restaurant. However, overall occupancy of that part of the site was very low.
Nationally there was not much money available for further/higher education. How had this impacted on the College? - The college would focus on (i) adults who did not have sufficient Maths and English skills to undertake employment, to look after themselves or their families’ health, or to contribute economically to the region; (ii) adults who wanted to access higher education such as HNC and HND; and (iii) adults looking to re-skill or upskill. However, funding was under pressure.
Did the need to borrow for student loans impact on the take up of courses? - Overall, it was not believed that the student loan system had adversely affected Accrington and Rossendale College, but there were issues around too many students going to university, but receiving a product that did not meet their needs and expectations. A Level 4 qualification in a college or an apprenticeship, might be a more appropriate educational route for those individuals.
Given the lessons learned from over-borrowing and reputational damage caused, how would the college ensure that the situation was not repeated in the future? -- It was understood that the college had increased its debt at a time when its income was falling, but that its business model, to spend its way out of a problem, had not worked. The college had been under some pressure to deliver a new building, but that had not generated sufficient new students in the catering side. The college’s current borrowing levels were affordable and its leadership was prepared to make savings, if necessary, to balance the budget. The overhanging debt had been addressed by the Government funding.
Could the college provide a centre of excellence for the health sector? - As a general rule NHS organisations were hard for colleges to engage with. However, the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust had a jointly funded post, which helped to provide access to temporary posts in areas such as IT, cleaning, porters, post rooms, and healthcare. Nelson and Colne College currently worked with the Trust to provide staff with the skills they needed, which might lead to wider opportunities across the college group.
There had previously been an adult learning outreach site in Great Harwood. How would Lancashire Adult Learning continue to operate in the current challenging financial climate? - It was envisaged that Lancashire Adult Learning would continue to develop. It was grant funded, but the aim was to get a better return on investment for the grant available. The focus would be on going to venues where there was the greatest need, for example by attending primary schools where the parents themselves were unable to read. The overall number of people supported to learn would not reduce, but the focus of that support might change.
Would the college be subject to more mergers in the future, particularly in the light of strong competition from Burnley and Blackburn Colleges? - There were currently no plans for more mergers. However, all East Lancashire colleges would need to work together strategically to plan for the future.
The Leader of the Council thanked Ms Melton for her attendance and engaging presentation, which highlighted an exciting future for Accrington and Rossendale College. The Council wanted all age groups, young and old to maximise their levels of achievement. It was hoped to invite Ms Melton to address the meeting again at some future date and an offer was extended to hold the meeting at the college.
There were no alternative options for consideration or reasons for rejection.
Resolved – That the presentation on the future of Accrington and Rossendale College be noted.