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Newton Rigg Review Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Updated 18 February 2021

This FAQ page has three sections;

1. Further Education Commissioner’s (FEC)-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review (June 2020 – February 2021)
2. Answers to Key Questions
3. Askham Bryan College’s Newton Rigg Review conducted by the FEC (February to May 2020)

General public: if you have any further questions, please email newtonriggreview@newtonrigg.ac.uk
Press: for any news media enquiries, please email mary@maryhampshire.com or call 07985 779078

SECTION 1: FEC NEWTON RIGG STRATEGIC REVIEW (June 2020 - February 2021)

1. What is the Newton Rigg Strategic Review?

The Further Education Commissioner (FEC)-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review, which began in June 2020 and concluded in February 2021, was set up to explore and test options for finding a potential new owner for the Newton Rigg site. The objectives and criteria, set by the Steering Group, were to promote the opportunity and test the ability of any interested parties to fund and deliver detailed business plan and proposals for the Newton Rigg site. The criteria and objectives are a standard set as part of these types of processes. The Steering Group comprised officials from the Further Education Commissioner (FEC) team, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Eden District Council and Askham Bryan College.

2. Who has coordinated the Newton Rigg Strategic Review?

The Further Education Commissioner (FEC) team, led by a land-based specialist, has coordinated and chaired the Newton Rigg Strategic Review in conjunction with Askham Bryan College and officials from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Eden District Council.

3. What were the objectives of the Newton Rigg Strategic Review?

The objectives of the Newton Rigg Strategic Review were to promote the opportunity and test the ability of any interested party to fund and deliver their detailed business plan and proposals to take on Newton Rigg Campus so that it can continue to deliver high quality further education for the local area. The criteria and objectives are a standard set as part of these types of processes. 

4. How many students are studying at Newton Rigg and how are they being supported?

This academic year, 2020/21, there are 536 learners based at Newton Rigg comprising 440 further education students and 96 apprentices. We have been supporting our Newton Rigg students by updating them at key points via a combination of letter, text, email and web alerts. The College’s Careers Team, course managers and tutors are continuing to offer support and guidance on progression opportunities, any questions students may have, and day-to-day issues related to college life.

Students’ communication timeline:

February 2020: Newton Rigg students and applicants for September 2020, were made aware of the review process and its potential impact on their study journey, including being informed of alternative courses at other colleges and providers that they could apply to beyond July 2021.

May 21st 2020: Update on the governing body's ‘in principle’ decision to close Newton Rigg in July 2021.

July 21st 2020: Update on the governing body's final decision to not deliver education provision from the Newton Rigg site beyond July 2021

Summer break through to September 2020.

December 2020: Update on the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review as presented to the governing body by the Newton Rigg Strategic Review Steering Group

January 2021: Update that the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review is ongoing and to detail that the College will host an information, advice and guidance virtual event – Progression Fair: alternative study options when Newton Rigg closes (July 2021). Alternative colleges and providers will be invited to the session to offer advice and support.

February 2021: Update on the final element of the Further Education Commissioner (FEC)-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review, which concluded that it has been unable to identify an organisation to continue delivering sustainable land based education at the Newton Rigg Campus, and that Askham Bryan College should continue with finding a buyer for the site.

5. What courses are offered at Newton Rigg?

Agriculture, gamekeeping, animal and equine management, forestry, horticulture and agricultural engineering as well as general further education courses such as uniformed public services, sport, hairdressing and beauty therapy, childhood studies and health and social care.

6. What was the reason for the Newton Rigg Strategic Review?

During discussions with various groups from Cumbria last year, a high level of support was expressed for Newton Rigg from various organisations and groups after Askham Bryan College’s governing body announced in May 2020 that it had taken the difficult decision, in principle, to stop delivering education and training at Newton Rigg from July 2021. A small number of interested parties approached the College with proposals for the future use of the site. As a result, the Further Education Commissioner (FEC) team, Education and Skills Funding Agency, (ESFA), Askham Bryan College and Eden District Council formed the Newton Rigg Strategic Review Steering Group in June 2020 so that the merits of any proposals could be fully explored.

7. Has the Newton Rigg Strategic Review been completed?

The Strategic Review concluded its initial work on schedule on December 17th, 2020; the final element of the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review was completed on February 5th 2021. In December 2020, Askham Bryan College’s governing body were informed that neither of the bidding parties were able to meet the criteria set by the Strategic Review, in order to secure the long-term success of a potential new college or provider for students in the future. Therefore, the Strategic Review’s recommendation to Askham Bryan College’s governing body was that it should not accept either bid and that it should subsequently proceed with plans for closure of the Newton Rigg site by July 2021.

Askham Bryan College's governing body accepted those recommendations. However, a request was subsequently made to, and accepted by Askham Bryan College’s governing body that further work with the parties be undertaken early in 2021. The FEC-led Steering Group set a new deadline to re-submit bids and gave further briefings to interested parties to support how they could meet the criteria successfully in their re-submissions. 

The final element of the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review, completed on February 5th 2021, has concluded that it had been unable to identify an organisation to continue delivering sustainable land based education at the Newton Rigg Campus, and that Askham Bryan College should continue with finding a buyer for the site. 

The review identified that most provision currently delivered at Newton Rigg can be provided in Cumbria by other post 16 FE providers. In addition, other arrangements to ensure the continuity of land based provision in the area are being developed. The FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review Steering Group’s recommendation was made during its final meeting on February 5th, 2021. Askham Bryan College’s governing body subsequently accepted the recommendation at its meeting on Monday, February 8th, 2021.

The College is very disappointed that a comprehensive sustainable option for Newton Rigg has not been found and understands the sense of disappointment and upset that staff, students and stakeholders have felt. The College has fully supported the Strategic Review and share detailed information with all interested parties and key stakeholders.

8. How many bids were received?

The Strategic Review received initial expressions of interest from a number of parties at the end of August 2020 and has worked with two main parties during the last few months so that they could complete the second stage of the process of submitting detailed business plans. In order to give the process and parties the best chance for success, the FEC and officials from Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) hosted additional workshops on meeting the criteria for success, including briefings on further education funding and finance. The FEC team worked closely with the College, the ESFA and stakeholders to conduct a thorough and comprehensive Strategic Review. At its final meeting on February 5th, 2021, the Strategic Review Steering Group did not receive any revised bids for consideration.

9. Will Newton Rigg still close in July 2021?

The final decision by the governing body, announced last year, to close Newton Rigg Campus means that Askham Bryan College will not deliver educational provision there beyond July 2021.

As the Newton Rigg Strategic Review, a separate, formal process, has been unable to identify another organisation to deliver sustainable land based education there in future, Newton Rigg Campus will close in July 2021. The College regrets the prospect of future job losses and understands the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg; the College is doing all it can to support staff and students at this difficult time.

10. Why has this decision been taken?

Newton Rigg is not financially viable from the College’s perspective and would require ongoing investment to keep pace with industry skills. The review identified the following challenges:

• Demographic challenges: The College faces low population density in the rural location of Cumbria, and future low demographic growth of 16 to 18-year-olds.
• Student recruitment: Over the longer term, this is falling with insufficient local demand for specialist land-based provision, compounded by the declining demographics.
• Financial losses: As a result of the above factors, Newton Rigg has an annual operating deficit of around £1 million and lacks a sustainable business model due to declining student numbers and demographics.
• Estates reinvestment: In order to keep pace with the latest land-based sector skills needs, the estate needs around £20 million capital investment.

Given the current economic climate, and the fact that no capital or revenue funding is available, the College has no other option but to close the facility in July 2021.
Ultimately, it’s in the best interests of Cumbrian learners to attend a thriving college campus. The review indicated the size of the challenge to achieve this at Newton Rigg.

11. What is happening to the buildings and land at Newton Rigg?

Askham Bryan College has appointed professional agents who will manage the process of finding a buyer or multiple buyers for the Newton Rigg site.

12. How was the Strategic Review different to the earlier Newton Rigg Review?

The Newton Rigg Strategic Review began in June 2020 with the formation of the FEC’s Newton Rigg Steering Group to explore and test options for finding a potential new owner for the Newton Rigg site.
The earlier Newton Rigg Review sought to analyse educational provision at Newton Rigg and across Cumbria, to establish whether there is a need for college provision in the general location of the campus and, if so, how this could be best delivered in the future. For more details, please see Section 3.

SECTION 2:  ANSWERS TO KEY QUESTIONS

1. Did Askham Bryan College buy Newton Rigg Campus for £1?

This claim is inaccurate. The College is aware of speculation about the purchase of Newton Rigg in 2011. None of the current executive management team were at the College at that point, however investigation into legal documents held by the College, related to Newton Rigg’s acquisition, in 2011 has confirmed that the College made no payment of £1. 

2. How much did Askham Bryan College acquire Newton Rigg for?

The College paid a seven-figure sum of money between 2011 and 2013 related to the acquisition of Newton Rigg.  Subsequently, the College has invested over £4.4 million in capital at the site and subsidised a significant annual operating deficit at Newton Rigg.  The College estimates that this subsidy amounts to up to £7 million between 2011 and 2020.

3. Why are Cumbrian-based students registered as Askham Bryan College rather than Newton Rigg students?

Newton Rigg is one of six campuses that Askham Bryan College currently operates; Newton Rigg is not a separate college or legal entity. All students at all campuses are Askham Bryan College students.

4. Why is Askham Bryan College proceeding with finding a buyer for the site?

Askham Bryan College started the process of finding a buyer in a parallel process to the extended Strategic Review, which has now concluded.

Further education colleges are independent institutions. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 removed colleges from local authority control. The College’s Corporation (governing body) is able to make its own independent decisions.

As the College is independent and an exempt charity, the governors, as trustees, also have a legal obligation under the Charities Act to secure the best outcome for the charity.

5. Why is Askham Bryan College able to sell the assets?

Further education colleges are independent institutions that receive varying levels of funding from the government. Their financial position is dependent on different factors, particularly student recruitment. Further Education colleges have to be financially viable and sustainable.

As previously explained (Section 1.10), Newton Rigg Campus, due to demographic, financial and recruitment challenges, is not financially sustainable. The College owns the site. As the College is independent and an exempt charity, the governors, as trustees, have a legal obligation under the Charities Act to secure the best outcome for the charity.

6. Is the College in financial difficulties?

The financial landscape for further education colleges is extremely challenging. Askham Bryan College is one of 11 independent specialist land based colleges in England. In 1992, there were 40.

Since 1992, four separate organisations, including two universities, have not been able to generate a student cohort or campus of enough critical mass or size to be sustainable. Detailed work on student demographics shows that the number of young people in Cumbria will fall further in the coming decade.

According to the National Audit Office, almost half of further education and sixth form colleges in England have required government intervention because of financial difficulties after many years of funding cuts.  Although we have faced financial challenges, Askham Bryan College has not required any financial intervention.

7. Has the College been using non-disclosure agreements to silence debate?

We understand this is a very difficult situation for the local and wider community. Askham Bryan College has been transparent with staff, students and other stakeholders throughout the entire process, providing accurate and timely information in a responsible way. Non-disclosure agreements are standard practice when sharing commercially sensitive information between negotiating parties, and are also a required part of the review process to protect the confidentiality of all parties involved including the bidders.

8. Have all interested parties and organisations had a fair chance to be involved and/or enter a successful bid?

The overall review period has been running for a year. The criteria and objectives are a standard set as part of these types of processes. 

In order to give the process and parties the best chance for success, the FEC and officials from Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) hosted additional workshops on meeting the criteria for success, including briefings on further education funding and finance.

The 12-month timeline, commencing February 2020, is as follows:

February 2020: Askham Bryan College asked the Further Education Commissioner to lead an independent review of educational provision at Newton Rigg Campus (completed four months later in May 2020). Public announcement and key stakeholders made aware

June 2020: the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review Steering Group was formed to explore and test options for finding a potential new owner for the Newton Rigg site. Public announcement and key stakeholders made aware

December 2020/January 2021: Extension of the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review following unsuccessful bids received by the original December 2020 deadline.

February 2021: Conclusion of the final element of the FEC-led Newton Rigg Strategic Review


SECTION 3: ASKHAM BRYAN COLLEGE’S NEWTON RIGG REVIEW (February 2020 – May 2020)

1. What was the Newton Rigg Review?

Askham Bryan College’s governing body asked the Further Education Commissioner, an advisor based at the Department for Education, to lead an independent review of educational provision at Newton Rigg Campus, took place from February 2020 until May 2020. The review explored educational provision at Newton Rigg. Regional organisations that support education and the economy, and other stakeholders, in Cumbria have been involved in the Newton Rigg Review.

2. What was the aim of the Newton Rigg Review?

The review sought to analyse educational provision at Newton Rigg and across Cumbria, to establish   whether there is a need for college provision in the general location of the campus and, if so, how this could be best delivered in the future. The review was completed in May 2020 and the FE Commissioner provided a report of the findings to Askham Bryan College’s governing body so that it could make informed and evidence-based decisions about future provision offered at Newton Rigg Campus.

3. What did Askham Bryan College’s governing body decide following the review?

After a very careful consideration of the findings, the College’s governing body decided in principle, on May 21st 2020, to close Newton Rigg in July 2021. This decision, taken in principle at that time, was subject to the outcome of a minimum 45-day statutory consultation process with staff and the recognised trade unions, which started on May 21st 2020.

The governing body made its final decision, on whether the campus would close or not, following the conclusion of the statutory consultation process. Consequently, Askham Bryan College will not deliver provision from Newton Rigg beyond July 2021. The final decision was made on July 20th 2020. The College regrets the prospect of future job losses and understands the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg. These decisions were very difficult ones for the governing body to make and Askham Bryan College had done everything it can to support students and staff affected.

4. What does this final decision mean for students and applicants?

All courses and student recruitment have continued for this academic year 2020/21. This final decision means that Askham Bryan College will not deliver education provision from its Newton Rigg site beyond July 2021.

5. Is the rest of Askham Bryan College affected?

No, this final decision only affects Newton Rigg Campus in Penrith, Cumbria. Askham Bryan College has six campuses in total at York, Newton Rigg, Middlesbrough, Saltaire, Newcastle-Gateshead and Wakefield.

6. What will happen to the staff at Newton Rigg?

There are 117 staff who have been involved in the 45-day formal consultation process, which has concluded. Teaching will continue until July 2021. The College regrets the prospect of future job losses once the Newton Rigg Campus closes.

7. What will happen to Newton Rigg students?

Some students finished their studies in July 2020. Those learners who have wanted to progress and complete this academic year 2020/21 have been able to do so as planned. The College is in positive discussions with other education providers across the region to ensure that progression opportunities beyond July 2021 are available for Cumbrian students. Students have been offered support if they wish to explore changing their options.

8. What will happen to apprenticeships?

We will explore an alternative location for the ‘off the job’ training element based in Cumbria.

9. Has there been a public consultation about Newton Rigg Campus?

There was a formal, statutory consultation with affected employees, not a public consultation, process. This began on May 21st 2020 and has concluded, involving staff and the recognised trade unions. We have also discussed the challenges the College has faced with key stakeholders in the region.

10. Why did the College decide to close the campus in summer 2021 rather than summer 2020?

Closing the campus in July 2021 has enabled students who had started courses with us in the last academic year 2019/20 to progress and complete an additional academic year. It also enables a transition period and time for staff to prepare for the future. The College’s governing body were clear that they wanted to delay a closure for one academic year, despite having an option to close by September 2020, to protect the best interest of students over this academic year.

11. Has the College considered any other options?

The College has explored other options, including fully cooperating with the Newton Rigg Strategic Review, but none so far can address the issue that the campus is not financially viable and would need significant long-term investment in future.

Askham Bryan College,
Askham Bryan,
York,
YO23 3FR
01904 772277
enquiries@askham-bryan.ac.uk