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Priorities revealed for troubled college's merger - as inspectors say more improvements are needed

PUBLISHED: 06:00 31 October 2019 | UPDATED: 08:50 31 October 2019

Easton and Otley College has published the results of a consultation on its proposed merger. Photo : Steve Adams

Easton and Otley College has published the results of a consultation on its proposed merger. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

A "farming champion" for land-based learning and a smooth transition for students are among top priorities for stakeholders in the imminent merger of two Norfolk colleges.

Jane Townsend, principal of Easton and Otley College. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJane Townsend, principal of Easton and Otley College. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Easton and Otley College has been in talks with City College Norwich and Suffolk New College since the further education commissioner recommended it be split up and merged with other further education providers.

It followed the specialist college's second inadequate rating from Ofsted in November 2018.

A consultation ran through September to glean views from local employers, parents, staff and the public.

Of the 110 people who responded, three quarters (76pc) were in favour of the merger - but some said they couldn't give their full support until the new colleges had been given a chance "to prove themselves".

Easton and Otley College specialises in land-based courses, with consultees were keen to see maintained. Picture: SubmittedEaston and Otley College specialises in land-based courses, with consultees were keen to see maintained. Picture: Submitted

So what are the public's priorities for the merger?

Preserving land-based education

Those polled said they were keen to see the breadth of land-based courses at the campuses, including agriculture, horticulture and animal care courses, preserved and not "diluted" by the merger. This is of particular concern for regional employers in these sectors, for whom the college offers a talent pipeline.

City College and Suffolk New College reaffirmed their intention to keep and strengthen Easton and Otley's land-based courses.

Easton and Otley College's annual lambing weekend at Easton campus. 
Picture: Sonya DuncanEaston and Otley College's annual lambing weekend at Easton campus. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Reducing impact on students

Students should be supported in completing studies, at whatever site, as smoothly as possible, respondents said.

Those polled also raised concerns over the possible "monopoly" on further and higher education in Norfolk - particularly in reference to City College.

The colleges said ensuring a smooth transition for students was a top priority and that there was a clear plan to provide more, not less, choice for students through the merger across all sites.

Eric is cooled down in the hot weather at Easton and Otley College's equestrian centre by groom Laura King. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYEric is cooled down in the hot weather at Easton and Otley College's equestrian centre by groom Laura King. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Impacts on staff

There were calls for a "farming champion" and visible leadership for agriculture at the campuses to bolster student numbers and attainment.

Respondents also asked for full consultation with unions and sensitivity towards staff affected.

City College previously said there may be some job losses among non-teaching staff, but both colleges said staffing matters were being handled sensitively and in cooperation with unions.

Easton and Otley College opens its doors to the local community on Norfolk Day 2018. Picture: Sonya DuncanEaston and Otley College opens its doors to the local community on Norfolk Day 2018. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Andrew Barnes, chairman of City College Norwich Corporation, said: "Stakeholders clearly articulated that this merger should strengthen Easton and Otley's distinctive land-based training provision, and build on the college's considerable experience, expertise and specialist facilities. City College Norwich shares this priority."

He added: "This merger also creates exciting opportunities to combine expertise and resources in other areas of the curriculum."

If accepted, the merger would be completed by January 1, 2020, with further consultation and preparations taking place in the interim.

Full details of the findings can be found at www.eocmerger.co.uk.

Ofsted's latest judgement

The consultation feedback came as Ofsted released its latest monitoring report for the college.

It acknowledged progress was being made, but said further improvements were needed.

While the number of students who passed exams increased "markedly" thanks to staff and leaders' efforts, the report said there were still inconsistencies between subjects and across the campuses.

For example, the Easton campus saw increasing pass rates in subjects such as engineering, construction and floristry but little progress in agricultural courses.

Its English and maths performance also came in for criticism - inspectors said a failure to recruit and retain properly qualified staff had "overshadowed learners' experiences" and too few pupils had achieved a passing grade.

But inspectors said senior leaders and governors "have overcome most of the staffing issues that beset them" and remained committed to improving teaching.

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