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"Inadequate" Southwark College to merge with Lewisham College

London SE1 website team

Plans for Southwark College to be dissolved and join forces with its Lewisham further education counterpart have been announced in the same week as the publication of an Ofsted report which gave the institution the lowest possible grade.

Southwark College, The Cut
Southwark College's Waterloo Centre in The Cut is expected to be retained but some other campuses could eventually be closed

Southwark College – which has campuses in Waterloo, Bermondsey and Camberwell – has around 5,000 students.

On Friday the Skills Funding Agency published a statutory notice announcing the proposed dissolution of Southwark College and the transfer of its property, rights and obligations to Lewisham College.

Under the proposals Lewisham College would be renamed Lewisham and Southwark College to reflect its remit.

Earlier this week education watchdog Ofsted released a report of its December inspection of Southwark College. The college received a grade 4 rating – the lowest possible score – from the inspectors.

"The overall effectiveness of Southwark College is inadequate," says the report by lead inspector Tony Noonan and his team.

"The college has experienced a very turbulent period over the past few years. The previous inspection in March 2010 judged the college as satisfactory and information provided by the college indicated an in-year improvement in learners' retention rates, but in fact learners' success rates actually decreased that year.

"The new principal began work in June 2010 and immediately highlighted the severe problems faced by the college, which included poor and declining learners' outcomes, falling recruitment and a large financial deficit.

"She took swift and decisive action, immediately carrying out a review of staffing, and cut around 6 million from the college's 2010/11 budget.

"While this was necessary to save the college from insolvency, it presented difficulties for the college to improve provision. Financial restrictions meant it was not possible to make permanent staffing appointments and, despite the good work of interim managers, it made the need to improve learners' outcomes more difficult.

"In spite of these issues, a small rise in learners' success rates took place in 2010/11, although the overall performance of learners is low when compared to similar colleges."

The report continues: "The weak state of the college's finances, the high levels of staff on short-term, temporary appointments and the unsatisfactory quality of provision in the majority of subject areas, mean that the college does not have the capacity to guarantee that sustained improvements will take place."

In spite of the critical tone of most the report, the inspectors found some "pockets of good practice where good teaching and high standards are the norm, for example ICT and floristry".

Bermondsey & Old Southwark MP Simon Hughes gave his backing to the proposed merger at this week's Bermondsey Community Council meeting.

"It gives security to Southwark College which has been in a very difficult financial position and will guarantee the sites ... behind Bermondsey Tube Station and the Waterloo site, as well as continuing activity in the south of the borough," he said.

The MP urged local residents to write in to the Skills Funding Agency in support of the merger.

"We absolutely cannot afford to lose our FE college. It does a fantastic job for those who go there, but it needs to be put on a secure footing and [the two colleges] will be stronger together."

A special website to provide students and staff with details of the proposed merger has been set up at

If, after public consultation, the merger is approved by business, education and skills secretary Vince Cable, the merger could take effect as soon as 1 June this year.

• This week Southwark councillors will be asked to approve the release of an extra 1 million section 106 cash from 'The Place' development at London Bridge, including 600,000 for the Shard Southwark Vocational Programme which is run in partnership with Southwark College.

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