A ‘STEP forward’ has been taken in a bid to save a Barnsley education institution from financial ruin - after a government review confirmed more funding will be available to help secure its future.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) announced in the spring that 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’s grounds in Stainborough.

According to the guidelines, the college faced 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.

However, following efforts from Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates - backed by Barnsley Central MP and South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis - a government-led review praised Northern College and confirmed devolved, regional budgets will help secure its future.

Apprenticeship and skills boss MP Gillian Keegan - who confirmed discussions regarding the funding repayments are ongoing - said: “I am really pleased that Northern College will remain as a standalone institution.

“This follows a structure and prospects appraisal at Northern College, led by the Further Education Commissioner.

“The college has faced a number of challenges and the appraisal was undertaken to explore options for securing a sustainable future.

“The steering group included representatives from both the Sheffield City Region and West Yorkshire Combined Authority, staff and governors from the college, alongside members of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

“The group unanimously agreed that Northern College should remain as a standalone institution, and I am grateful for all the work they have put into this process.

“I know that the college provides high quality learning opportunities for disadvantaged and vulnerable adults in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and beyond.

“This was recognised by stakeholders and the standalone plan for Northern College reflects a collaborative model with potential to build on due to its strong track record of quality, leadership, governance and widening participation.

“I recognised that challenges remain and that discussions regarding funding repayments are ongoing, but the greater certainty over devolved, regional funding should, however, help to offer the college a period of stability.

“Our teams will continue to monitor and offer support, and I am grateful to see Northern College having a successful and sustainable future.”

The college - which had an average of 4,000 annual registrations before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and resulted in prolonged spells of closure, as well as a slashed take-up - is set to benefit from the newly-devolved £36m adult education budget (AEB) which arrived this month.

Miriam said: “I was delighted to receive the letter informing me that the Northern College will continue as an independent institution based in our constituency.

“The Further Education Commissioner has recently undertaken a review to decide on the best possible way to secure the financial and educational future of the college.

“As part of this process, I made strong representations for the Northern College to take on a bigger role in providing adult education and skills training across South Yorkshire, and spoke of the unique value it has in offering second chances to learners in our region.

“I’m pleased that the FE Commissioner has agreed that the best way forward is for the Northern College to continue as an independent institution, and that Sheffield City Region has agreed on an improved funding package over coming years.

“This will help the college to reach even more people in our communities and offer them the opportunity to gain new qualifications and skills.

“I’ll continue to work closely with the Northern College and its leadership to help them make the most of this unique local facility.”

Dan welcomed the ‘step forward’, but said more work has to be done in the long-term to help the college thrive.

“Although there is still work to be done to ensure its long-term sustainability, I’m very pleased to hear the announcement that Northern College will retain its independence,” he added.

“Northern College is an iconic institution, rated outstanding by Ofsted and an integral part of the fabric for adult education - both locally and across the north of England - but it’s been hard hit by a combination of the pandemic and central government cuts to further education.

“As a very long-standing supporter of Northern College, I will always do whatever I can to ensure its future to support the next generation of learners.”