Merger of Norfolk colleges secured one's future, new principal says
PUBLISHED: 09:24 15 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:20 15 December 2017
The principal of newly-merged colleges in Norfolk has said one would have been unlikely to survive without the process.
Corrienne Peasgood, pictured, will take over at the helm of North Walsham’s Paston College, formerly Paston Sixth Form College, which, as of December 1, merged with City College Norwich (CCN).
While a consultation on the plans showed 51pc of respondents voted in favour, the plans have attracted concerns over a feared loss of Paston’s 400-year heritage, transport for students and redundancies.
Mrs Peasgood, who replaced former Paston head Kevin Grieve, said the north Norfolk college would have been unsustainable without the merger, which took nine months from start to finish.
“Further education provision in north east Norfolk, without the merger, would not have been sustainable any longer,” she said. “It wouldn’t have existed.
“The offer was predominantly A-level, and it’s now about broadening that offer.
“So that’s for 16 to 18-year-old level two and below, provision for students with learning difficulties, access to higher education courses for adults over the age of 19, leisure learning courses and so on - this will make it a college for the community of north-east Norfolk.”
She said the plans - which came after an area review of local further education (FE) - “absolutely” made financial sense, but that CCN had already been the biggest FE provider in north Norfolk.
Looking forward, she said she hoped to work closely with the North Walsham community, with the college set to ask local people with a particular interest about leading a leisure course.
And although she recognised the need to preserve the college’s history, she said the focus should be on creating a shared heritage.
“You don’t just keep traditions for the sake of it - and you don’t make change for change’s sake,” she said. “Paston has had 400 years of history and we have 126 and it’s about starting that new history together.”
Critics, including North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, have questioned to colleges’ suitability to merge - while Paston’s focus has, in recent years, been academic, CCN’s has traditionally been vocational.
But Mrs Peasgood said provision had fluctuated over the years depending on need - and that combining the two was a way of “providing what Norfolk needs”.
A difficult time for some
Mrs Peasgood said they were working closely with staff who have been affected by the merger.
While she said it was difficult to give an exact number, it was acknowledged from the start that, with economies of scale now playing a role, some jobs would be lost.
“For some staff it is a very difficult time because in order to make this sustainable there are roles that will no longer exist in North Walsham,” Mrs Peasgood said.
“We are working really hard with those staff in North Walsham to see what the best options are for them, but ahead of Christmas we know this is a really difficult time.
“It’s very difficult, because it’s set against what is an exciting time generally, and the benefits that the staff joining the Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN) Group are now seeing.”
A concern for some parents has been the 15-mile distance students could have to travel between sites.
But Mrs Peasgood said this was unlikely - and that students would be transported by the college on the limited occasions it was needed.
She said the main reason would be to bring together students to provide lesser-taught subjects.
“The only time we would transport students between the two sites would be for specialist subjects that aren’t offered elsewhere,” she said.
“If we can bring a viable number of students together we can offer more courses, which other school sixth forms may be able to share in.”
There has been a general trend of sixth form centres cutting the number of courses offered, with options dwindling as budgets tighten.