SOUTHAMPTON colleges could merge in a move that would affect more than 7,500 students, it has been revealed.

City College Southampton, Itchen Sixth Form College and Richard Taunton Sixth Form could be merged or asked to work closely together in the future.

It comes just months after a proposed merger of City College Southampton and Eastleigh College was scrapped.

Now the three city colleges have confirmed that they could merge.

It is not yet known if the move, whether that is working closer together or a merger, would put jobs at risk.

In a statement the colleges’ principals said they are  at the very early stages of the merger even being an option and there is no timescale in place for this to happen.

In a joint statement, Sarah Stannard, principal at City College Southampton, Alex Scott, principal at Itchen College, and Dr Liz Lee, principal at Richard Taunton College said it is agreed that a merger between the three colleges would be positive.

They added: “Nationally colleges have been encouraged to merge to be as financially efficient as possible and if this were to happen in Southampton it would be in line with the wider national agenda. Whatever structure the colleges may take in the future, our number one focus remains to ensure that young people and adult learners in Southampton have the best possible further education provision and opportunities to learn the skills they need to be successful in their chosen careers.”

The move has been discussed at Southampton City Council.

Civic chiefs backed a motion asking the leader of the council, the opposition leader and the leader of the Solent LEP to write a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson urging him to support a potential merger ensuring “the young people of Southampton can have access to the very best of institutions and faculties.”

It is understood further details would be disclosed in an area review set to be published by the Department for Education (DfE).

When asked about details of the merger and when a review will be published a DfE spokesperson said “more information will be available in due course”.

Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith said he had held discussions with the colleges and will support them in the move.

City education chief Cllr Darren Paffey said: “We are in the early stages of exploring a range of options with colleges and other partners that would place Further Education in a city on a more sustainable foundation.

“This includes looking at ways to bring about and support closer collaboration between the city’s colleges.

“Mergers are only one of a range of options for collaboration that could also include, for example, colleges working together to jointly plan and promote the curriculum, or sharing resources for greater efficiency.

“This is very much in step with best practice in the FE sector across the country, where we are seeing greater collaboration as a way of addressing some of the sector’s long-term challenges.”