Stourbridge News Column, 16th May 2019

 

Stourbridge News Column – Thursday 16th May

The loss of Stourbridge College is a terrible blow to our town. Many generations have a personal connection with the College and I share the anger at BMet’s decision to close the flagship campus on Hagley Road.

I am aware there is a campaign to keep the college open which is totally understandable. But I feel it is important to be very sure of the facts before I lend my support to this endeavour. I am cautious for a few reasons, not least because of the significant fall in the numbers of 16-18 year olds across Dudley Borough and the fact that even without our college there are still two Further Education Colleges and a Sixth Form College (plus a few school sixth forms) in the Borough.

I have arranged an urgent meeting with the Minister responsible and officials, at the Department for Education, and will be speaking to students and teachers later this week. Following these discussions, I will be in a better position to make an informed decision about whether there is a viable case for the Hagley Road site to continue to provide further education to young people in Stourbridge.

In the meantime, I am working hard to represent the interests of students and staff at Stourbridge College, and my focus is threefold. First, I will support and encourage any viable plan to use the Hagley Road site for the continued education of young people in and around Stourbridge. There are currently restrictions in place on the site which means it must continue to be used for educational purposes.

Secondly, I will endeavour to make sure students are not disadvantaged financially by having to travel to either Dudley or Halesowen Colleges to complete their courses. I have written to the principal of Bmet on this specific matter, having discussed it with the local Further Education (FE) Commissioner. I am encouraged that both Dudley College and Halesowen College do provide free coach travel and bus passes, and that this will be honoured for students transferring from Stourbridge College. That is positive, but I also expect students for whom this cannot be a solution for whatever reason, to be similarly supported – whether that is through a specific fund for travel, additional bus services or other options.

Finally, I want to ensure the curriculum on offer from Dudley and Halesowen Colleges is the best it can be for students currently at Stourbridge College, in the areas over which I have influence. We are starting from a good base, because Halesowen and Dudley Colleges are rated good and outstanding respectively. Dudley College in particular offers industry-leading research and teaching. I will work with college leaders, officials in my own Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and with the Department for Education, to make sure that the education on offer at those institutions is of the highest standard. On Friday, I will be at Halesowen College in the morning for a discussion about Digital Skills with other Further Education institutions in the West Midlands, including Dudley College. I will certainly be speaking to both about what they will be offering Stourbridge students in this respect.

I will continue to listen to the views of people with a connection to the College and hope to join teachers and students there tomorrow for a meeting. If there is any more that I can do that would help to improve the current situation then of course I will do so. Please do follow my Facebook page at fb.com/margotjamesofficial, where I will be posting regular updates.