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Ken Merry 4 preferred

Principal hails ‘trailblazing’ merger with York Sixth Form College on 25-Year Anniversary

York College & University Centre Principal and Chief Executive Ken Merry has hailed the “trailblazing decision” to merge York College of Further and Higher Education and York Sixth Form College on the 25-Year Anniversary of the amalgamation.

Mike Galloway – the first Principal of the combined institution in April 1999 – has paid tribute, meanwhile, to the two sets of governing bodies who “very bravely” supported his vision to pool together the resources of the neighbouring post-16 education providers.

He also believes the College’s many achievements since the turn of the millennium – including an Outstanding Ofsted inspection in 2013 – are testament to the merger’s success.

Eight years after the merger, the College’s current building was opened on Sim Balk Lane, where the Sixth Form College had previously been accommodated.

Money from the sale of the Tadcaster Road land that the nearby College of Further and Higher Education was based on helped fund the impressive new structure, where Mr Merry was appointed Principal and Chief Executive last month.

Speaking on the significant Silver Anniversary, he said: “The decision to merge York College of Further and Higher Education and York Sixth Form College was, at the time, one that people thought was unorthodox but, in reality, it was a trailblazing decision. We can see that as so many other colleges followed suit afterwards.

“Creating one college has led to a highly successful institution that has, for 25 years, served the community of York and surrounding area brilliantly well. The history of York College has been full of highlights during that period from opening the state-of-the-art new build on Sim Balk Lane, to achieving Ofsted Outstanding, to being one of the first and most successful T Level providers in the country and opening the new construction and engineering centre, as well as recently being recognised as having one of the best college training restaurants in the country.”

Mr Merry is also committed to ensuring that the college builds on the solid foundations put in place over the past quarter of a century.

York College building in the sun WEB
The new College building opened eight years after the merger

“As a college, we continue to go from strength to strength and, as wonderful as our 25-year history has been, the future of the college is brighter than ever,” he declared. “We remain committed to offering the broadest curriculum in the region, to working with as many employers as possible to solve their skills needs, and to ensuring everything we do is as brilliant as it can be.”

After initial discussions regarding a possible merger with Askham Bryan College in the early 1990s were not taken any further forward, YCFHE and the Sixth Form College began working together in 1994 and a formal Joint Governors’ Working Group was set up in 1997.

The merger plan was subsequently approved – a month earlier than expected - by then Secretary of State for Education David Blunkett in late 1998.

David Mason retired as Principal of YCFHE shortly afterwards, meaning Mr Galloway, who had been his counterpart at the Sixth Form College, assumed leadership of the new combined institution.

At the time, he stated that the merger would greater help individuals and organisations achieve their full potential, make a significant contribution to the region’s economic well-being and play a significant role in the creation of a socially inclusive community.

The institutes were only located 300 metres apart and the merger meant students could access the libraries and sports halls on both sites with the playing fields previously owned by the Sixth Form College also now open to YCFHE students.

Students were initially still registered and based on a single campus but that changed after the first year as they attended lessons at both institutions.

When work began on the new build in 2005, all classes held in the Sixth Form College, which had previously been Ashfield Secondary School, were then moved to YCFHE where two-storey temporary classrooms were erected to cope with the increased volume of students.

Mike Galloway
Mike Galloway

Mr Galloway, who still mentors and coaches principals and sits on the Citizens Advice board of trustees in York, explained that one of the chief motivations for the merger was to provide greater equity between academic and vocational education in the city.

He said: “Previously, there had been two colleges that were chugging along, but you could see there was a lot of potential there. We just needed to find a way of unlocking it because the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

“I’d previously been the Principal and Vice-Principal of a tertiary college and, when I came to York, I could see that the two colleges were in competition for students and neither had the critical mass to be as effective as they could be. David Mason was retiring and he used to talk about having the ability to plunder the resources of both sites and I also felt we needed to do that.

“I was – and am still – very committed to the idea of academic and vocational education being treated with equity and that was the main driver for the merger. The Sixth Form College, for all of its good work, was almost seen as a Post-16 Grammar School for York, which was fine for the 900 to 1,000 students there, but not great for a number of other students.

“We managed to persuade both sets of governors that a merger was the right route to go down and they very bravely supported that view, as there was a lot of opposition and a bit of hostility at the time. It was on a knife edge whether it would happen or not and York owes a lot to that group of people because, without their agreement, everything that followed, including the new building and the Outstanding Ofsted inspection, would not have been possible.

“Merging also brought A Levels and YCFHE’s Higher Education offering closer together, which gave staff greater opportunities to work across the board too and, perhaps two or three years down the line, I think almost everyone had been convinced the merger had been the right thing to do, with the broad provision of education we could now offer.”

Victoria Lindberg
Victoria Lindberg

Victoria Lindberg studied A Levels at the Sixth Form College from 1996 to 1998 just prior to the merger and then returned to teach at the new combined institution before later becoming a member of the Strategic Leadership Team, where she now serves as Director of Quality of Education.

On the merger’s benefits for students and staff, she said: “Prior to merger, the two colleges were very separate and, in Year 11 at school, you were asked to make a clear choice between the two. I don’t ever really remember there being an option to explore both and, in fact, I think my school arranged the interviews with groups being sent to the Sixth Form interviews and others to the ‘Tech’.

“Looking back, I think my friends and I would have absolutely benefitted from exploring both options and finding out more about the opportunities for vocational study. Those at the Sixth Form College, generally, had not explored alternatives because we were pushed into deciding between the two organisations, or had the decision made for us!

“By merging the colleges, young people and adults in York and the surrounding area no longer needed to make that decision between two institutions – instead, they can now explore a whole host of programmes under one roof and, undoubtedly, our students have been able to make decisions that are better for them as a result.

“I also remember as a young teacher, early in my career, being able to learn from colleagues across the whole college and attending Continuing Professional Development sessions with teachers from construction and engineering - both disciplines that I wouldn’t have come across within the Sixth Form College.”

To learn more about the wide range of courses now available at York College & University Centre, please consider attending our next Open Event on Wednesday 19th June from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

You can register a place by clicking here