Hartlepool Sixth Form College and Sunderland College in merger talks to create a ‘super-institution’

From left; Julie Collins, Jonathan Brash, and Maureen Bunter of Hartlepool Sixth Form College, and Ellen Thinnesen, Rob Lawson and 'Nigel Harrett, of Sunderland College.
From left; Julie Collins, Jonathan Brash, and Maureen Bunter of Hartlepool Sixth Form College, and Ellen Thinnesen, Rob Lawson and 'Nigel Harrett, of Sunderland College.
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Hartlepool Sixth Form College and Sunderland College are in talks about a potential merger.

The possible merger would create a “super-institution” for education and it is said will secure financial stability for Hartlepool Sixth Form College and its Brinkburn site.

A consultation process begins today.

Both colleges have a long standing history of delivering sixth form provision.

Originally known as West Hartlepool Grammar School, or Brinkburn Grammar School, Hartlepool Sixth Form College now serves more than 850 students from Hartlepool and neighbouring towns, due to the college’s achievement record.

Mo Bunter, principal of Hartlepool Sixth Form College, said: “Sunderland Sixth Form and Sunderland College is a tremendously well-respected institution, and one that we believe will help to take Hartlepool’s provision to the next level.

“We explored a number of options, but none came close in terms of the cultural fit between our two organisations, and the absolute commitment we both share to academia. “It will strengthen both organisations and remedy the financial challenges that we have been facing as reductions in funding continue to hit the sector.

“We look forward to working together and in collaboration with other partners, as we move forward, over the coming weeks.”

Chair of the Board of Governors Jonathan Brash, added: “We know that this represents a strong, financially sustainable partnership, and one that will ensure that further education and academic attainment in both colleges is the best it can possibly be.

“We will be working closely with Sunderland College’s board – and of course the leadership teams of our organisations will be doing likewise – to ensure that the transition is smooth and that we quickly begin to reap the positives, in terms of sharing sixth form expertise and best practice.”

Sunderland Sixth Form, is situated at the college’s Bede Campus and serves more than 600 students, from Sunderland, Washington and County Durham.

It has had a 99 per cent pass rate for the last eight years.

Ellen Thinnesen, principal and chief executive of Sunderland College, said: “Hartlepool Sixth Form has a very long and important history and role within the town, it is vitally important this continues.

“I am delighted that our proposed merger resolves the Sixth Form’s current financial challenge and supports its continuation along with the provision of high quality, academic choice for the young people of Hartlepool.

“The merged colleges will see the development of a financially-stronger, more resilient organisation into the future and will lead to further investment for the people that matter the most - the young people studying in Hartlepool and Sunderland.

“Both organisations share an absolute commitment to the highest level of academic attainment and like Hartlepool Sixth Form, Sunderland Sixth Form and Sunderland College also have a fantastic record of progressing young people into higher education and meaningful employment.

“We believe this merger will make Hartlepool Sixth Form, Sunderland Sixth Form and Sunderland College even stronger and will raise the bar higher in terms of the standards, quality and the educational experiences we are able to offer young people.

“There are a great many synergies between the two colleges including our educational values and our relentless aspiration for shaping the lives of the young people in our communities for the better. Sunderland Sixth Form, along with Hartlepool Sixth Form achieved a recent set of outstanding results, meaning the merged colleges will provide a very strong academic foundation to build upon.

“Both colleges are looking forward to working together, learning from each other and ensuring that our individual strengths are maximised across Hartlepool and Sunderland. We will also look to work closely with neighbouring education institutions and the local authority to ensure the merger does not lead to unnecessary duplication in provision, but rather complements and strengthens the educational offer in Hartlepool.”

Since 2015, the sixth form college and further education college sector has been under significant scrutiny by government departments to ensure providers are financially sustainable that deliver maximum value for public investment.

Hartlepool Sixth Form College says it believes the partnership with Sunderland College, with its specialism in sixth form provision, represents the strongest possible alliance and will provide the best outcomes for young people in both areas.

Chair of the Board of Governors at Sunderland College, Rob Lawson, added: “Nationally the sixth form college and the further education sector have and will continue to face significant challenges now and into the future with regards to financial viability, while at the same time continuing to raise standards.

“It is because our governing body are so deeply passionate about sustaining the provision of outstanding education and training for young people in the North East, that we see the merger as a logical step.

“Our geographical closeness to Hartlepool, the cultural alignment of the two organisations, our commitment to partnership working and the vast educational opportunities that the merger will unlock, mean this really is a perfect fit.

“It’s a fantastic outcome for both organisations.”

Consultation on the merger runs from today until 5pm on Friday, April 28.

Details can be found online at www.hpoolsfc.ac.uk and www.sunderlandcollege.ac.uk.