A BLACKBURN college has been told it is in 'financial failure' by education chiefs.

St Mary's Sixth Form College was issued with a financial notice to improve after being assessed as 'inadequate' for financial health by the Education Funding Agency (EFA).


The Shear Brow college, which has been open since 1925, has been told it now faces a formal assessment of 'the long term viability' of the college when it is visited by a Sixth Form College Commissioner.

The college's acting principal Grant Birchby, who took over from Frank Dixon following his retirement in February, has been ordered to come up with a plan which includes 'exploring further staff savings' and a 'thorough review of curriculum areas'.

Union bosses have expressed fears about how the college will survive if it is forced to make further cuts.

Mr Birchby said the college has faced cuts after the funding rate for pupils was frozen but insisted students would continue to experience 'high standards of learning'.

The EFA, which administers funding for schools and colleges on behalf of the Department of Education, reviewed the college's financial plan after it requested help to address a cash flow issue.

It was deemed it to be inadequate for 2016/17 and 2017/18.

In a letter Paul Williamson, northern England director for the EFA, said: "In light of this, as detailed in the Department for Education’s published position on 16-to-19 education accountability, where a sixth-form college is graded inadequate in relation to its financial health for the current, or forecast year, it is deemed to be in financial failure.

"I can therefore confirm that St Mary’s College Blackburn is considered to be in financial failure, and as a result I am issuing you with a Financial Notice to Improve."

Mr Birchby said: "The funding rate for students has been frozen for the last few years representing a cut in real terms.

"It is highly disappointing that many colleges and schools, locally and nationally, are experiencing difficulties balancing their budgets.

"We will take every step to ensure that the quality of our provision is unaffected and that our students will continue to experience high standards of learning in our caring and supportive environment."

The college, along with others in the area is currently subject to an area review as part of a government restructure into the further education sector.

Mr Williamson said it needs to work on an action plan which demonstrates cost savings and to identify options for a 'structural solution' by the end of April which could include a merger with another college or academisation.

He said: "The plan should detail specific, time-bound activities that the college will undertake, and should include, but not be limited to detailed financial planning tables, the outcomes of exploration into further staff savings for 2016/17 and 2017/18, which should include a thorough review of curriculum areas."

The EFA will assess the plan and continue to monitor the college's progress until 2018.

If the college fails to take necessary actions the EFA will take 'further action' which could include withdrawing funding altogether.

Simon Jones, Lancashire executive member for the National Union of Teachers, said: "The college is in an impossible situation.

"The funding cuts schools are facing have been affecting sixth forms for the last few years.

"I know it has been through a really drastic reduction in staff and the subjects offered so it is hard to see how they can find any further savings and still be viable.

"I can't see how they are going to survive if that is the case. I really feel for them.

"I think this is a massive warning to all schools and colleges.

"What is happening to the colleges - schools are just a couple of years behind and we are starting to see the signs of that now. It is part of the overall funding crisis and it is a national scandal."

At its last Ofsted inspection in 2013 the sixth form, which has more than 1,000 students on the roll, was rated 'good'.