The chair of West Cheshire College is confident a proposed 'super college’ for Cheshire will ensure the Handbridge campus stays open after all.

WCC previously said its Chester base must close even though it only opened in 2011.

But Christine Russell, chair of governors at West Cheshire College, says a merger with South Cheshire College, Mid Cheshire College and Warrington Collegiate should be its saviour.

The driving force behind the merger is to ensure the curriculum offer matches the needs of the local labour market with a campus in major towns across the county.

Chairman of governors at West Cheshire College Christine Russell
Christine Russell, chairman of governors at West Cheshire College.

Ms Russell said: “I think it’s a great outcome. Essentially, we will end up with a campus in every town – a campus in Ellesmere Port, a campus in Chester, a campus in Warrington, a campus in Crewe and a campus in Northwich – all the main settlements in historic Cheshire with an over-arching management.”

She said the merger was about ensuring the viability of the struggling FE sector and offered scope for specialisation across the ‘super college’ to respond to the needs of the regional economy.

But she stressed: “At the age of 18 students are ready to go off to college at some distance but at 16 I think there should be a good offer in their locality which is why I’m delighted it looks as if we can retain provision in Chester.”

After clarifying she meant the Handbridge campus was safe for the time-being, she added: “I think at the moment I’m very confident we will retain FE provision in Chester.”

The merger follows a review of post-16 further education provision across Cheshire and Warrington by the government’s FE commissioner Sir David Collins.

The iconic West Cheshire College building in Ellesmere Port
The iconic West Cheshire College building in Ellesmere Port

A new FE college for Cheshire and Warrington will be created by 2018 in a phased programme that will start with the merger of South Cheshire College and West Cheshire College by January 2017. This will be followed by Mid Cheshire College by August 2017 and Warrington Collegiate by January 2018.

The proposal aims to build on the key strengths of each college, creating a stronger organisation delivering high quality education and skills training for learners and employers. The merger will also create a financially robust college that will stream-line back-room costs.

However, there is work to do in raising educational standards across the new organisation.

West Cheshire College was judged ‘inadequate’ following an inspection last autumn but is making progress. Mid Cheshire College faces similar challenges while Warrington Collegiate was recently labelled as ‘requires improvement’. South Cheshire College was judged as good in 2012 (2012) and a recent inspection found the college had ‘worked tirelessly to improve’ and ‘good quality of education’ had been maintained.

Sir David Collins said: “An FE college for Cheshire and Warrington has the full support of all four colleges, as well as local authorities and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The merged college can, through its collective strengths, ensure consistency of quality as well as sustainability and resilience against the challenges faced by all colleges.”

Acting principal at West Cheshire College Helen Nellist
Helen Nellist, acting principal at West Cheshire College.

Helen Nellist, acting principal and chief executive at West Cheshire College, commented: “This is a unique opportunity for all colleges to collaborate and create a new vision for the region’s further education sector. Together we will ensure the region’s prosperity and future growth through skills development, training and education.”

A merger steering group will be formed shortly with the task of working and consulting with all stakeholders in the development of proposals for the new college.

Macclesfield College of Further Education will decide later whether to join the proposed FE college for Cheshire and Warrington or go in with the LTE group.