Two-way merger signals new era for region’s land-based learning

Easton and Otley College. Photo: Chris Holifield

Easton & Otley College is announcing a dynamic new collaboration which is set to secure the long-term future of land-based education in the region.

Its board has entered into a memorandum of understanding to facilitate a merger with two other colleges in the region, marking the start of an exciting new era of co-operation to serve the needs of the growing food and agriculture sector that is one of the biggest employers in the East.

The college has spent the past two years working closely alongside business leaders, community organisations, leaders in the agriculture and farming sector, MPs and local councils to secure the future of land-based provision, determined to rise to the challenges which the sector has been facing.

Subject to public consultation and legal and financial due diligence, it is hoped that from January 2020 Easton & Otley College will see its Easton Campus becoming part of City College Norwich, and its Otley Campus joining Suffolk New College.


The University of East Anglia and the College of West Anglia will be close working partners, involved in supporting the delivery of further and higher education courses.

The proposed move follows a report and recommendation from the Further Education Commissioner, Richard Atkins. He launched a business review last December with the intention of finding the best future for the College, following two disappointing Ofsted reports.

The review had the active support of the board and leadership team of Easton & Otley College, Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, the New Anglia LEP, and the NFU, with a wide range of business and community leaders being consulted throughout the process.

The focus of the new merger plan includes:

  • Business a usual for students at each college, with the highest priority given to them being able to complete their studies at their current site
  • Offering exciting new opportunities to those students considering joining – with far broader and more ‘employment ready’ courses available
  • Agreeing a new and inspiring business plan to support the land-based industry of the future, including the AgriFood Tech strand of the Local Industrial Strategy. This will build upon the business planning carried out over the past two years and will boost skills, training and job opportunities which employers and business leaders need to compete and win in the post Brexit economy at home and abroad
  • Ensuring outstanding teaching and training opportunities, and further improved student support
  • Securing strong and sustainable finances to enable more investment in growth and development for learners

The Further Education Commissioner’s recommendation to implement this merger, which follows in the wake of substantial structural change across colleges nationally, has been formally adopted by the Boards of all three colleges.

Principal, Jane Townsend

Principal, Jane Townsend, said: “We now have a clear direction for securing the future of land-based provision in the region.

“My team is fully committed to ensuring that during this period of transition, we will continue to drive improvements in the quality of teaching and learning, and at Easton & Otley it will be ‘business as usual’ for students as we teach and inspire the future leaders of our sector.”

“Both Suffolk New College and City College Norwich have successful track records of driving quality improvement. We are now able to benefit from that experience through this collaboration; a model which has proved successful elsewhere in the country.”

The Commissioner has proposed that the merger be completed by 31st December, with a public consultation and an internal business review to take place before then.

Ms Townsend added: “I would like to thank every member of our teaching staff and the vast number of friends of Easton & Otley College from across Norfolk, Suffolk and beyond, who have shared their experience and expertise as part of this review – including elected representatives, businesses leaders, agricultural and farming bodies, community organisations and local authorities. Our College and our learners are so fortunate to have such wonderful supporters.

“Together, we are fully committed to securing and maintaining a stronger future for land-based education in the region. It is a sector open to people of all talents and abilities, and one that is central to the future economic growth of UKplc.”

Mark Pendlington, Chair of Easton & Otley College, said:  “This has been a tough couple of years as the College has got itself in the best possible shape to make sure that land-based education survives and thrives well into the future.

“That work prepared the way to attracting strong interest from a number of institutions who wanted to merge with us, and we now have an outcome that promises current and future students exciting new opportunities as they prepare for jobs and careers in the rapidly evolving world of work.

“Make no mistake though, there remains much to do and we will continue our focus of building upon the progress already made.  Together with our new college partners we will be driving exciting new potential in technologies and applied sciences, working ever more closely with universities and researchers to lead the way internationally in showing what a modern, mobile and dynamic regional economy can deliver for UKplc.

“Our sector, like our economy, must adapt to grow, and deliver the skills and talent required by employers. This is why education must adapt too, and I pay tribute to the team at Easton & Otley for the energy, vision and focus they have brought to lay the groundwork for a better more secure future.

“In agreeing to this merger, high expectations have been set by the College’s Board and leadership team.  Our students and the future health of our growing economy deserve nothing but the best.”

Principal of Suffolk New College, Viv Gillespie, said: “This is an exciting time for Suffolk and the region generally and we are delighted to be joining forces with the Otley campus of Easton & Otley College.

“We will work closely with our partners City College Norwich, who are merging with the Easton campus, to ensure that high quality land-based provision in Suffolk and Norfolk is developed further to meet the needs of industries.

“We are determined to honour the agricultural and horticultural roots of the college by creating many exciting plans for the Otley campus, including the introduction of new land-based programmes – as well as further expansion in other areas such as construction.

“In particular, we want to work with the many food and drink companies in Suffolk to train the workforce of the future and support enterprise.

“We give our commitment to continue the areas of study currently offered at Otley that will ensure students receive a high quality experience that mirrors the exceptional standards we offer at our existing campuses in Ipswich and Leiston.”

Corrienne Peasgood, CEO & Principal of City College Norwich, added: “City College Norwich has a long history of responding to the changing skills and training needs of Norfolk’s employers and students. 

“Working closely with other New Anglia Colleges Group colleges, and our Higher Education partner UEA, we are ready to do the same for the land-based sector which is so important to our region. 

“Together we have an ambitious, robust and realistic plan in place for bringing about the required changes, whilst ensuring that Easton & Otley College’s current and future students do not experience any disruption to their learning and are able to complete their courses and progress as planned.”    

UEA Vice-Chancellor Professor David Richardson said: “UEA is proud to be the higher education academic partner of both Easton and Otley College and City College Norwich and we wish City College Norwich and Suffolk New College every success.

“The most important thing for the students and staff at Easton & Otley is to see good progress being made quickly and UEA remains committed to working alongside our further education colleagues.”   

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