Why did UEA bid to run Easton and Otley fail?

PUBLISHED: 15:31 07 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:31 07 June 2019

UEA submitted a bid to run Easton and Otley College  Picture: CARMINA MCCONNELL

UEA submitted a bid to run Easton and Otley College Picture: CARMINA MCCONNELL

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There are question marks over why a bid from a top university to partner up with Easton and Otley College after its two failed Ofsteds was rejected.

Easton and Otley College's Otley Campus   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNEaston and Otley College's Otley Campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The University of East Anglia (UEA) was one of the two bids to run the crisis-hit land college put before a panel. But it was the joint bid from two further education (FE) colleges - Norwich City and Suffolk New - which won through.

Although merging colleges with other generalist FE institutions is the 'tried and tested' route and considered the 'safe' option, the UEA bid was seen as the stellar one.

MORE - Easton and Otley to be carved up after damning Ofsted inspections

It would have broken into new territory and provided a route into higher education for students while extending the university's brief to include farming - a vital sector for the region.

However, further education commissioner Richard Atkins, who led a structural review of the college following two failed Ofsteds, favoured the FE option, which means that - subject to a business review and public consultation - the Easton and Otley campuses will be split up by December 31, and integrated into their respective county FE mainstream providers.

Further Education Commissioner Richard Atkins  Picture: DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATIONFurther Education Commissioner Richard Atkins Picture: DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION

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FE colleges have faced a brutal few years under the government's austerity funding regime and face many challenges.

The Department for Education was asked by this newspaper to provide the commissioner's rationale, but it would go no further than to issue the following statement: "The Further Education Commissioner carried out a review of Easton and Otley college following two poor Ofsted judgements in 2017. This led to the college board taking the decision to work with City College Norwich to take on their Easton campus and New College Suffolk to take on the Otley campus.

"They aim to complete this change by January 2020 and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) will work closely with all three colleges to ensure minimal disruption for learners."

The commissioner and three former FE principals held meetings with a steering group made up of college governors and key stakeholders, as well as other groups such as employers and staff. The steering group reportedly strongly favoured the UEA bid, but the commissioner plumped for the FE option.

Despite UEA's 'excellent' track record in HE teaching and research, he cited the need to improve the quality of provision quickly, and financial sustainability. A stumbling block was bridging the gap between the higher and further education sectors and their respective requirements, and the UEA's lack of a track record in the FE sector. Mr Atkins also claimed Suffolk New College was the only one with a plan to try and sustain the Otley campus.

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