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Plans for Easton and Otley break-up 'not what I hoped for', admits chair

PUBLISHED: 18:45 07 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:45 07 June 2019

Chair of governors at Easton and Otley College  Mark Pendlington, who admits break-up was not outcome he hoped for  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Chair of governors at Easton and Otley College Mark Pendlington, who admits break-up was not outcome he hoped for Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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The chair of governors at Easton and Otley College has admitted that the plans for its break-up are "not quite what I hoped for".

Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk , Lady Euston, will be 'watching very closely' to ensure recommendation delivers for land-based sector  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLord Lieutenant of Suffolk , Lady Euston, will be 'watching very closely' to ensure recommendation delivers for land-based sector Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

But Mark Pendlington said the focus now was on 'making it all happen' after the college - which reached crisis point after a second damning Ofsted report last year - accepted a joint bid by further education (FE) providers Suffolk New College and Norwich City College to break it up and bring the respective county campuses under their wings.

If the plans go ahead on December 31, Otley campus will merge with Suffolk New College, and Easton with Norwich City, while UEA will have an informal, supportive role.

MORE - Easton and Otley to be carved up after two damning Ofsteds

Mr Pendlington, who joined the college two years ago after its first 'inadequate' Ofsted rating determined to turn around its fortunes, was shocked after Ofsted inspectors returned in the autumn of last year and delivered another damning verdict.

Not enough time

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington said it had been a difficult process  Picture: WARREN PAGENFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington said it had been a difficult process Picture: WARREN PAGE

Mr Pendlington and principal Jane Townsend argued that they had not had enough time to turn it around sufficiently following swingeing staff cuts of 80 full-time equivalents and an ambitious restructuring when the inspection team arrived, but set about trying to implement all the improvements required.

College told to seek bids to take it over

However, a structural review undertaken by government officials led by further education commissioner Richard Atkins decided the best way for the college to secure the future of land-based education in the counties was to seek bids, with the winning one and another from the University of East Anglia (UEA) both in the running.

Mark Pendlington's reaction to decision

"The solution we have now been given is not quite what I hoped for personally, but it is certainly exciting, and I really do hope that it realises the full potential of land based education," said Mr Pendlington.

"The plan looks strong, and we all have very high expectations that the potential will be met and exceeded. We are very fortunate indeed to be merging with two such excellent colleges, and while the links with UEA may not be embedded as formally as I hoped, greater levels of collaboration are promised."

He pointed out that a number of other land-based colleges had linked successfully with general FE institutions.

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His ambition on becoming chair was to tap into the region's talent and create a centre of excellence for land-based and agricultural disciplines, and still believes it has "real potential" to be a pioneer in what is the region's largest industrial sector.

"If we can't lead the way and be recognised as delivering what the industry needs to compete and win in the post Brexit era, then it will be massively missed opportunity, and others will deliver it instead," he warned.

The links between areas such as food nutrition and science, agri-tech and plant technology needed to be stronger, added Mr Pendlington, a former chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

"Those links need to be stronger and deeper, and as the future of Easton and Otley was being discussed, it quickly became clear that this view was shared by the vast majority of our board, employers, business leaders, local authorities, the LEP and the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

"I saw this as a time to be brave and bold, and for us to be given an opportunity to pioneer something different and exciting. Surely our present and future learners, as well as the economy, deserve nothing less. Our business plan charted the direction of travel. It's why we recruited a high calibre new principal. And it's why we reached out as never before to work with employers and the wider region."

Lady Euston warning

Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk Lady Clare Euston, who is a strong supporter of the college and whose family owns the Euston Estate in west Suffolk, said there was a "greater need than ever" to develop closer links between colleges and universities to ensure "we are industry leaders and not followers".

"I and many others will be watching very carefully to make sure that this recommendation delivers on its potential, which includes securing Otley as a centre of excellence for land based education, well into the future.

"We will be wanting to be convinced too, that by returning Otley and Easton to split campuses, it is not a return to where it all was six years ago, looking backwards rather than being more ambitious for the future."

Difficult process

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington said the review has been "a difficult process", creating a huge uncertainty for students, staff and all those involved.

She was "pleased" a decision has been reached which allowed the college to move forward, and said it was important to put the uncertainty behind them and work together.

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