Government snub to UEA-Easton and Otley merger bid comes under fire
PUBLISHED: 08:36 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:36 13 June 2019
Current and former governors of crisis-hit Easton and Otley College have hit out at a decision to reject a merger bid from the University of East Anglia (UEA) - despite strong support for the option.
Further Education (FE) Commissioner Richard Atkins decided to back a joint bid to break up the land college after it failed two Ofsted inspections and merge the two campuses - one in Norfolk and the other in Suffolk - with their nearest respective mainstream FE providers, Suffolk New College and City College Norwich.
Despie a majority of the stakeholder group which looked at the two rival bids favouring the UEA bid, the commissioner's counter recommendation effectively overrode their wishes.
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John Whyman, who is an independent governor at the college and chair of its audit commmittee, believes the UEA option would have been "transformational" for agricultural education in the east of England.
"I was in attendance at the Joint Stakeholders final proposal meeting where University of East Anglia (UEA) and Suffolk New College (SNC) and City College Norwich (CCN) presented," he said.
"I can confirm that the stakeholder group almost unanimously recommended (in some cases very strongly) that the bid from UEA should be accepted.
"The deficit in their bid was the further education (FE) commissioner's view they had insufficient skills in FE, despite their assurance they would almost immediately 'buy in' FE skills to undertake a rapid cross college transformation."
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Former chair of governors Sally Bendall, who resigned after the first bruising Ofsted 'inadequate' rating in 2017, said she was "hugely frustrated and saddened" by the outcome.
"As a farming person, had I not been involved so closely, I would not have believed how quickly the goalposts could be changed, and how far and how fast," she said of her time in the role.
But she had "great admiration" for principal Jane Townsend. "I support the board and I know what a hard job Jane (Townsend) and Mark (Pendlington, chair of governors) have had - they are just damned if they do and damned if they don't," she said.
The rejection of the UEA bid was a "missed opportunity", she added, but the stakeholders would work hard to make the FE option work.
UEA vice-chancellor Professor David Richardson said: "UEA is proud to be the higher education academic partner of both Easton and Otley College and City College Norwich and we wish CCN and Suffolk New College every success. The most important thing for the students and staff at Easton and Otley is to see good progress being made quickly and UEA remains committed to working alongside our further education colleagues."
The Department for Education was approached for a comment.