17 May 2019
Hadlow College is in a difficult and unprecedented financial position. My thoughts are with all of those who work at the group, or study at the College or West Kent College, Hadlow Rural Community School, or any of the other facilities which are part of the Hadlow Group.
Hadlow College makes a huge contribution - not just to the village itself, but also to Tonbridge and the wider Kent economy. Since the financial issues came to light I’ve been working closely with the Department for Education and the Further Education Commissioner to establish the best route forward. Over the past few weeks I’ve met frequently with the Minister responsible, Anne Milton MP, alongside Damian Green, MP for Ashford, considering the implications for Ashford College too. Last week, Kent MPs got together specially to discuss the impact of these events.
It is worth considering how we got here. For a number of years I had been in close contact with the previous leadership about financial matters to help get extra funding. I had been delighted to help secure millions of pounds investment, on the basis it would be spent on our local facilities. To have heard that the College was in deep financial trouble concerned me greatly considering some of the battles for funding we have fought over the past few years. It remains to be determined exactly what has happened but I will be calling for a thorough investigation with those responsible being held to account.
Here is a copy of a letter I sent to Anne Milton MP on 10 May 2019 following our latest meeting. It became clear during this that there is no easy way back for the Hadlow Group. It is obvious too that we are in unchartered territory.
That’s why I have argued for the prioritisation of students in the recovery plan. 10,000 students rely on the Hadlow Group for their education. Thousands more will be considering one of their courses in the coming years. Many of these are unique, land based studies, unlikely to be replicated anywhere else. These must come first.
If this step requires the Group to enter educational administration, then so be it. The law has recently been changed to ensure the needs of the students come before any creditors and I am particularly reassured that this law is now in place. Clearly this isn’t an outcome any college wants. But the scale of the financial mess is so deep and unheard of nationally that special circumstances have to be considered.
This is unique territory, and Hadlow Group would be the first of its type to go into administration. Sadly, this eclipses the financial situation at K College 5 years ago which saw the Hadlow Group take over West Kent College.
However, if the courts confirm that the college be placed in Educational Administration, then it will mean the College stays open. If the application is approved, an administrator is appointed so current courses will continue, while a longer term solution is established to protect Further Education across Kent.
In January, a new insolvency regime for Further Education colleges was introduced, so there is an orderly process in place for managing financial difficulties where a college enters administration. This is the process which I trust Hadlow College would be following, under the new leadership team appointed by the Further Education Commissioner.
So, despite all of the financial difficulties, there is a route out of the mess. Albeit one which is slow and might have further consequences. I’m delighted that the Government have introduced the College Oversight guidance, which could keep thousands of students in their courses. You’ll see from my letter to Anne Milton that in the worst case scenario, this could be the best way back.
It’s clear that after all of this a thorough investigation needs to happen to understand why we got into this position in the first place. I know I’m not the only person who spent a considerable amount of time with the previous leadership trying to get more funding for the Group. Its important to know where this has been spent.
But my thoughts are with staff, students and all those who work with the Group. The uncertainty is leaving us all, including me, concerned. Hadlow Group and all of its associate colleges and schools is one of the biggest contributors to our local economy. We will all know someone who has been taught, or is learning at, one of the sites. Many people are employed locally and hundreds of businesses have connections with the Group.
But the most important thing is that the Group, and all of its colleges, continue to run on a day to day basis. I hope my advice can be acted upon and courses continue. It’s crucial the Department for Education’s guidance is followed rigorously.
I’m in close contact with all concerned and will continue to be over the coming days and weeks. I will continue to keep everyone updated.
If you, or anyone you know, has any specific concerns please be in touch with me. My phone number is 01732 441563 and e-mail address email@example.com.
22 May 2019
The Further Education Commissioner’s conclusions about the state of Hadlow College’s governance are, sadly, no surprise considering the college has become the first in the country to go into Educational Administration. It is becoming increasingly clear that mismanagement at the very highest levels has left students and staff in limbo about the future of the College.
Public money was entrusted to the college to educate our young people and help them start careers. If it has been wasted, we need those responsible held to account.
The Minister of State in her letter has made it quite clear that improvements need to be made within three weeks. I support this approach and am keen to hear about the steps they are taking now to protect courses for local students.