The following is the text of my letter to the Secretary of State for Education to urgently request a meeting about Cheadle & Marple Sixth Form College, an excellent college which 228 High Peak students attend. Further Education has suffered 20% cuts, so most colleges are in debt and threatened with forced mergers with other indebted colleges. Cheadle & Marple is financially stable and delivers excellent results so I have asked the Secretary of State to support the college, not force it into a disruptive merger.
Dear Secretary of State,
CHEADLE & MARPLE SIXTH FORM COLLEGE
I write to request an urgent meeting with you regarding the future of Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College (C&MSFC) and their current financial issues. I am writing to you because over 200 students attending the Marple Campus are from my constituency and this number has been growing in the last few years.
C&MSFC forms a significant part of our post-16 provision in High Peak. Only 3 of our 7 Secondary Schools have sixth forms and the sixth form college at Buxton does not offer A levels, and only a few limited and some specialist BTEC courses. Buxton Community School which is the alternative for A levels only offer ten subjects compared to the 22 A levels and 13 vocational courses offered at C&MSFC.
C&MSFC has been especially important to High Peak since the closure of New Mills Sixth form in 2018. It is the closest provision for many young people in High Peak, and with the college’s free bus service is the only way that many families can afford their children to attend. Transport fares to other provision are £30 a week and will increase further if Derbyshire County Council proceed with their proposal to abolish discounted travel for young people. I also have a number of staff members living in my constituency who have been in touch with me to raise their concerns.
C&MSFC have an excellent reputation in the community. A level and BTEC results were better than Cheadle Hulme private school and other local colleges, when compared to added value data last year. The College consistently and markedly outstrips national results in GCSE Maths and English. When Ofsted inspected in May 91% of its provision was classed as ‘good’ or ‘better’. Issues with the sub-contracting of Apprenticeships Programme resulted in a RI judgement overall, but the College has taken swift action to address this and is no longer offering these courses. Marple in its own right is a very strong college which has been heavily invested in with new buildings and offers excellent provision to High Peak along with areas of Stockport.
C&MSFC are not alone amongst FE colleges facing financial difficulties and it is clear that systemic underfunding of sixth form provision lies at the heart of these issues. C&MSFC’s turnover has almost halved over the last seven years and it’s 2018-19 annual report noted that:
“Successive years of decline in student intake coupled with funding reductions during a period of austerity have had a significant adverse impact on the organisations turnover which has fallen by £7 million in seven years, from £15.6 million in 2010-11 to £8.3 million in 2017-18.”
“At the end of 2017-18 the college generated a deficit before other gains and losses of £3 million (2016-17 £1.98 million deficit). The comprehensive income for the year was £3.795 million surplus (2016-17 £0.24 million surplus).”
However, student numbers are rising – an additional 176 started at the College this September – and demographics in the area show an 16-19 population continuing to increase for the foreseeable future. Staff report that class sizes are now larger, teacher productivity has increased 10% from last year (each teacher now teaches more classes) and, crucially, senior management has become far leaner as people have left.
The staff passionately believe C&MSFC is in great shape going forward if the current debt could be serviced, and that they are in the best position to do this as a standalone college. The new Acting Principal and FD are now working closely with the ESFA to ensure the college is managed effectively and efficiently. Unions are fully supportive and on board and will work collaboratively with the Management to secure the future for the College. They are concerned that an enforced merger would not be well-received in the local community and that any merger partner would bring with them their own financial issues.
If the College continues to do well, and sustains this year’s increase in numbers, C&MSFC has a bright future should it be supported to sort out the short term cashflow issues and debt. As I understand it, a financial notice to improve was issued to the College in June, shortly before the College approached the ESFA to seek additional short-term funding, setting in process an assessment by the FE Commissioner. The staff believe that the conclusion of this assessment is imminent and likely to recommend an enforced merger.
I seek an urgent meeting with you to discuss the future of the College.
Ruth George MP
Member of Parliament for High Peak