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Secret suitors in bid to revive fortunes of 'inadequate' Suffolk college

PUBLISHED: 16:29 25 March 2019 | UPDATED: 07:55 27 March 2019

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

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

Archant

Four further and higher education institutions are in the running to work with a Suffolk and Norfolk-based land college after it failed two Ofsteds in succession.

Easton and Otley College  principal Jane Townsend, and chair of governors Mark Pendlington  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNEaston and Otley College principal Jane Townsend, and chair of governors Mark Pendlington Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The institutions, which are not being named at this stage, are submitting three competing bids, one involving two of them working together to help turn around Easton and Otley College.

College chiefs reached out to other educational institutions after it was told it would need to undergo “a full structural review” looking at all options following the ‘inadequate’ ratings, the last of which triggered a Further Education Commissioner (FEC) intervention.

“In recent weeks we have put out the request to other institutions to say: ‘Do you want to work with us?’” explained chair of governors Mark Pendlington.

Four declared their interest to work with them, he said. One of the college’s ‘red lines’ had been that the solution arrived at ‘must serve the region’, he added.

Glasshouses on the Otley campus of Easton and Otley College   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNGlasshouses on the Otley campus of Easton and Otley College Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

At the beginning of April, the bids will be shortlisted, with those which make it through that stage making a presentation in late April to a steering group of about 20-plus people made up of college, stakeholder and government representatives and a candidate chosen to recommend as the preferred bidder to government.

Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills Anne Milton wrote to Mr Pendlington in January 2019 following the second Ofsted inspection putting the college in Administered College Status with immediate effect.

Since then, there have been regular meetings to monitor the college’s progress, and it has been under intense scrutiny with dozens of monitor visits.

Mr Pendlington admits the second Ofsted, before the results of an ambitious recovery plan for college had taken effect, was a “bitter blow” and a “huge disappointment”, but they were now looking ahead at the options offered up by the different suitors, each of which offers different things to the college.

“We want to serve the future of the industry,” said Mr Pendlington. “I’m determined we’ll come out of this stronger.”

Across its two Norfolk and Suffolk campuses, the college has 544 staff, and around 5,000 students.

It has been be working with experts from business, education, land-based industries, and local government to work out a “strong future” for the college.

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