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College takeover bid turned down by commissioner

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A London borough has failed in its bid to take over the running of a college – but has written to the skills minister seeking further talks.

Further education commissioner David Collins said Southwark LBC’s application to run Lewisham Southwark College was not “viable” and required more detail, a council spokeswoman said.

However, she said the proposal was not dismissed out of hand and the council had now written to skills minister Nick Boles to see if a “more radical and sustainable solution” for the future running of the college could be found.

Ofsted inspected Southwark College in December 2011 and found it to be inadequate. Financial concerns resulted in the college being merged with Lewisham College. Since then Lewisham Southwark College has received inadequate Ofsted ratings in November 2013 and February 2015.

LGC reported last month that Southwark’s leader Peter John (Lab) believed that, working in conjunction with businesses, the local authority could do a better job of matching students to jobs in the area. Cllr John said he thought Southwark could act as a pilot for other authorities seeking greater control over the skills agenda as part of devolution deals.

A spokeswoman for Southwark confirmed the council had received a letter from Mr Collins in response to its proposals.

“In that letter he gives a view that de-merger does not offer a viable way forward and for our proposal to be considered it would require more detail such as a curriculum plan and the location of any provision,” she said.

“At no stage does he ‘reject’ the proposal…and we have since written to Nick Boles MP, minister of state for skills, with support from big employers in the borough, to begin a conversation about how we can achieve a more radical and sustainable solution for learners rather than the status quo.”

In a statement, Cllr John accused Mr Collins and Mr Boles of “propping up a college which is letting down our residents”.

He said: “We’ve been talking to big businesses and other education providers locally, and there’s a huge amount of support for us to take the bull by the horns.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills declined to comment.

A statement on Lewisham Southwark College’s website said the college had “been through hard times of late” but added efforts to make improvements had been recognised by Mr Collins and Ofsted. It added the college would “continue to expand on excellent employer engagement”.

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