LEADERS in Barnsley have come together in a bid to save an ‘iconic education institution’ from financial ruin following a heavily criticised government review which will take back vital cash reserves.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) announced colleges that deliver less than 90 per cent of their budget allocation face having their unspent funds clawed back - a worst-case scenario for Northern College, which operates from Wentworth Castle in Stainborough.

Having been founded in 1977, the college has an average of 4,000 registrations per year and helps disadvantaged and disengaged students - aged 19 and over - to secure qualifications through short, intensive courses.

However, given the costly impact of the pandemic - which has resulted in a reduced take-up of course registrations and prolonged spells of closure - the government’s plan is set to hit the venue hard.

According to the EFSA guidelines, bosses face the prospect of paying back an additional £660,000 as they won’t hit the 90 per cent tolerance level, falling 17 per cent short.

On top of this, the government is conducting a national review of adult residential funding which could remove an uplift which boosts cash allocations for residential courses at Northern College.

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis probed skills minister Gillian Keegan on its plight and urged the government to work with local stakeholders to ensure the venue’s future.

He said: “Northern College is one of Barnsley’s proudest institutions and the only adult residential college in the north.

“Currently, Northern College is under government review as like most colleges the pandemic has caused considerable financial pressure.

“Despite this it continues to be an outstanding college committed to supporting adults get into and stay in work and supporting our region’s businesses to recover and prosper in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“I know how devastating any loss of service would be to Barnsley and South Yorkshire as a whole.

“I’ll be doing everything I can to protect this iconic institution.”

In a typical year, venues are allowed to keep 100 per cent of the national adult education budget funding if they achieve a threshold of at least 97 per cent of their allocation.

Last year this was lowered by 30 per cent, owing to the impact of Covid-19.

Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates, who will visit the college today, added: “It is an incredibly valuable institution that does fantastic work giving disadvantaged adults a second chance at education.

“As the local MP I’ve been working very closely with its management team and with local stakeholders to try and secure its future.

“I’ve also met with colleagues in the government to highlight its unique role and value.

“I’m convinced the college has the potential to develop and continue providing opportunities to people across South Yorkshire and beyond.”

Principal Yultan Mellor said leaders remain committed to its future, adding: “Northern College, the only adult residential college in the north, has a long-standing history of supporting adults to re-enter education and use their immersive residential learning experience to progress, gain employment or retrain for a new career.

“We have excellent achievement rates and are rated outstanding by Ofsted.

“In February we welcomed the further education commissioner team to assess how we are managing changes to our financial model in response to current and planned reductions in residential support funding.

“We are also managing the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on our provision and income for 2020/21.

“The report acknowledges that Northern College consistently met its student enrolment targets year-on-year before the impact of Covid-19.

“We remain committed to continuing to work with our partners to support the economy to recover and grow.

“The immense support we receive from our MPs and stakeholders highlights the essential part Northern College plays in the lifelong learning ecosystem in our region.

“We would like to thank all our stakeholders, MPs and partners for their continued support both regionally and nationally.”