15 August 2019
Since my last update about the future of Hadlow College much has happened. Sadly, this is not because the initial indications of what went wrong are any less severe. Indeed, I have asked the Department for Education to do a thorough review once the short and long term future of Hadlow College and all partner colleges are resolved.
In the meantime I have focused on two things. The first is students’ ability to learn and the wellbeing of staff at Hadlow College and partner organisations. I met the administrators and the interim principal, Graham Morley, just before term ended in July. It was inspiring to see the focus of all there. Graham has done an excellent job since coming in and I am delighted that he will be staying until Christmas.
In addition, the Further Education Commissioner, Richard Atkins, has been looking into all of the possible solutions to the problem. It was clear that the ‘Hadlow Group’, which included both Hadlow College and West Kent College, could not continue in its current form. Many in the Further Education industry put forward ideas to help address the financial difficulties.
Through all of this I spoke at length to the Commissioner and also the then Minister at the Department for Education, Anne Milton, about what is best for us locally. I was quite clear that it is essential that the link between Hadlow College and West Kent College remain. Both colleges offer completely different courses and ensure that as many needs as possible are served in Tonbridge and the surrounding communities. They both enhance the education available to our children and keeping that connection was essential.
I am delighted that the recommendation from the Further Education Commissioner recognises this. Hadlow College and West Kent College will join in partnership with North Kent College, who have bases in Dartford and Gravesend. The most encouraging news is that they are in good financial health.
This splits up the existing Hadlow Group, as some of its partners in East Kent are not best off with North Kent College. This makes sense. But it does mean that West Kent and Ashford Colleges will have to be formally broken apart.
That’s why we have an application for Educational Administration for West Kent College. It is not a new problem – rather, the beginning of a solution. Without the formal ties being broken between West Kent and Ashford, the solution couldn’t be implemented.
The Further Education Commissioner’s report also looked at other solutions and evaluated them. While the North Kent College option was chosen, it also offered some support for Hadlow and West Kent to operate together if required. This option would not involve Ashford, demonstrating why formal ties between it and West Kent have to be ended.
There is still a long way to go before the new structure is fully functional, but I am pleased that the work done so far has identified the solution, and steps are being taken to replace it. I am grateful for BDO, the administrators and leadership for all of the help they have given, as well as the Further Education and Department for Education staff for listening to the needs of our community. But most of all I am grateful to the staff, students and parents, who have continued to learn despite all of the issues over the past few months.
5 July 2019
Great to meet Graham Morley, Interim Principal at Hadlow College. Graham was appointed with a very specific role, to keep the College going while the financial and management issues are resolved. I’m delighted to say that the Ofsted Report of last week, which we talked through, confirms this is happening.
It is particularly pleasing to hear how positive everyone employed by the College is. I’m grateful for the work they’ve all done to keep the focus for pupils on learning.
Of course, the financial and management issues will be resolved soon, and a permanent structure will take time to bed in. But it’s great that it is business as usual at the college, as I saw when I was there. While I will continue to work with the Department for Education to ensure the long term future is stable, in the meantime I’m pleased that Graham and all of the staff have been doing such a good job for all the students.
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.
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.