Bedford College

Bedford College are a long-standing user of Tribal’s benchmarking service, with it firmly integrated as part of the ­college’s ongoing cycle of performance improvement. In line with many colleges across the UK, Bedford College and neighbouring Tresham College, discussed the possibility of a more collaborative approach to education, aiming to ensure the best possible service to the local communities within North Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. They decided to pursue a merger: to form The Bedford College Group.

Informing the decision to merge

Bedford College is an Ofsted grade 2 provider that has Outstanding financial health and an aspirational culture of delivering high quality services. A merger was decided to be the best solution, after Tresham College received a poor Ofsted grade and subsequent intervention by the FE Commissioner.

Bedford College used benchmarking to help inform the process of assessing how viable a potential merger with Tresham College would be. Through modelling what a merged college would look like, Tribal’s analysis would provide senior managers with an early opportunity to assess how the new college compared to other larger providers, or colleges with multi-site campuses, to identify where best practices may lie and what lessons could be learned.

Finding the commonalities and differences

Bedford College asked Tribal Benchmarking to undertake a benchmarking exercise at both colleges simultaneously to quickly ascertain a common understanding of the mutual strengths and weaknesses of the individual colleges and how this would translate into a new merged institution.

Despite several commonalities colleges share, providers can differ considerably in structure and how processes are managed. Before the creation of a newly merged institution, it was important to better understand how both colleges compared to other high quality and financially resilient colleges on an individual basis.

To help inform strategic, evidence-based decisions, the information used needed to provide a portrait of both colleges that accounted for unique features and contextualised similarities and differences. The information was used to help steer future budgeting and guide an assessment of where improvements could be made and best practice shared.

Supporting opportunities and growth

Given that the results were a factor in the consideration of whether the merger would proceed, it was important that Tribal’s consultants worked quickly and accurately, and results were delivered within seven weeks of receiving data.

Bedford College’s results continued to show performance improvement; however, bursaries and exam costs were a feature of higher non-teaching non-pay activity.

Tresham College’s results reflected the hard work that had been undertaken to resolve the ongoing financial burden of high depreciation costs and annual loan repayments. Costs appeared lower or in-line with external benchmarks across several areas, but additional cost efficiencies were needed to provide investment opportunities elsewhere in the college..

Tribal consultants shared results to the individual colleges independently, presenting to Executive and wider management teams, as well as to the corporation at Tresham College, meaning there was a consistent message delivered, with context and analysis aiding the narrative.

Both colleges had a challenge to continually improve performance levels alongside funding, but through using Tribal’s benchmarking service, strategic decisions needed to drive performance improvement were made based on objective evidence.

Bedford College and Tresham College merged on 1 August 2017 to form The Bedford College Group, now an FE provider with expected income exceeding £50.0m.

Speaking on behalf of Tribal, Nick Pidgeon, Managing Consultant, Benchmarking said:

“We were thrilled to work with both colleges to help support their merger. The benchmarking exercise that was undertaken has allowed The Bedford College Group to better understand the level of differences and commonalities between the two original individual colleges, and identify necessary strategy to address those areas most in need of immediate attention.”

Working with the Tribal Team

Ian Pryce, CEO of The Bedford College Group said:

“Our strong, established relationship with Tribal meant that the provision of a benchmarking exercise for Tresham College was quickly and accurately facilitated. The Tribal team which facilitated both exercises were extremely professional and knowledgeable. Not only have opportunities for cost efficiencies been identified by the team, but also possible investment needs and opportunities to invest in current and future staff. Tribal were instrumental in giving us the objective facts we needed to inform the decision to merge.”

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