TWO NORTH East colleges have been given the green light to merge, after both boards unanimously backed proposals.
Hartlepool Sixth Form College and Sunderland College announced in March that they were in discussions about a potential merger, and today it was confirmed they will come together to create a super-institution for education.
The proposal will see Hartlepool Sixth Form merge with Sunderland College and Sixth Form in August, creating a more resilient Sixth Form for Hartlepool and a larger, more robust Sunderland College Group. Both colleges have run a wide-reaching consultation process, and there has been overwhelming support for the merger, which has also received the backing of the Sixth Form Commissioner and FE Commissioner.
Chair of the Board of Governors at Hartlepool Sixth Form College Jonathan Brash, said: “It was clear that there was a fantastic cultural fit between Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form, and the board is absolutely convinced this partnership will deliver a strong and sustainable provision for the young people of Hartlepool.
“Ultimately, both Hartlepool Sixth Form College and Sunderland College want the absolute best for the young people of their respective areas and this merger will deliver just that.”
His views were echoed by Stephan Jungnitz, interim principal of Hartlepool Sixth Form College. He said: “We are really pleased to become part of Sunderland College, a move that will strengthen Hartlepool Sixth Form College and further improve our excellent standard of teaching, learning and student support.
“We are looking forward to working with our colleagues in Sunderland over the summer as we join a wider group, and to sharing best practice along the way to ensure that provision in the Hartlepool area is the strongest it has ever been.”
Both Hartlepool and Sunderland have a long-standing history of delivering Sixth Form provision. Originally known as West Hartlepool Grammar School, or Brinkburn Grammar School, Hartlepool Sixth Form College now serves more than 850 16 to 18 year old students, not only from the immediate Hartlepool area, but from neighbouring towns. Sunderland Sixth Form, which was originally Bede Grammar School, is delivered from Sunderland College’s Bede Campus and serves more than 600 students from Sunderland, Washington and County Durham. Sunderland Sixth Form has had a 99 per cent pass rate for the last eight years.
Ellen Thinnesen, principal and chief executive of Sunderland College, who has overall responsibility for the newly expanded portfolio, said: “Young people in Hartlepool absolutely deserve the best educational opportunities in a personalised, safe, innovative, high-quality learning environment that is focused on standards, performance and success; we are determined to deliver only the very best into the future at Hartlepool Sixth Form College.
“As we have gone through the process of consultation, it has been abundantly clear this is a merger that will bring about a great many benefits – a financially stable sixth form college, improved learning resources, a more resilient college that can keep up with the changes the sector faces, but most of all, a college that is absolutely geared up to offer the best possible student experience and support people from in and around Hartlepool to realise their vast potential, which is the absolute primary aim.
She added: “We are very much looking forward to learning from each other, sharing professional practice to enhance academic excellence and ensuring our individual strengths are maximised across Hartlepool and Sunderland. And we have an ongoing commitment to work collaboratively with neighbouring education institutions, the local authority and the Tees Valley to ensure the merger delivers a curriculum offer that meets the strategic needs of the sub-region and ensures the young people of this area have greater choice when they move on after school and upon completion of Sixth Form study.”
Since 2015, the Sixth Form College and Further Education College sector has been under significant scrutiny by Government Departments, with the goal of creating financial viable and sustainable organisations that deliver maximum value for public investment. These Area Reviews have strengthened the mind-set of Sixth Form and Further Education Colleges who across the country have been investigating a range of innovative options to create high performing educational institutions with a priority of achieving maximum value for public money, high-quality and specialised provision, all of which are at the core of the merger between Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form College.
Chair of the Board of Governors at Sunderland College, Rob Lawson, said: “The board wholeheartedly believe this merger will bring about huge benefits for young people in Hartlepool, the wider Tees Valley, as well as strengthening Sunderland Sixth Form and Sunderland College’s position.
“We recognised immediately that the closeness of the colleges geographically, and the alignment culturally and academically meant this would be the best possible ‘fit’, and having consulted widely, we remain confident this is the best possible outcome for young people in Hartlepool and in Sunderland.