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Cashing in on the lessons of a whizz-kid

Regardless of what policies are in place to improve quality, the ability of colleges to do well - or even to recover from not doing so well - is about the achievements of real people committed to the idea of a job well done.

We know about the charismatic principals and we know about the heroic lengths to which lecturers will go to make sure they do the best for their students.

But in between is a group of people whose contribution is all too easily missed.

As we report on page 3, Hadlow College has prospered despite having faced appalling financial hardship, and its ability to bounce back has been due in no small part to its choice of chief accountant.

Hadlow took a risk by hiring a whizz-kid from the City without the caution and eye for procedure which sometimes helps and at other times hinders public sector institutions.

The person in question is Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, who arrived at the college as finance and resources director. He found some bills could not be paid, worked out who would be chasing hardest for payment, and settled the college's invoices in that order.

Another of his contributions was to set up a more effective system of recording the progress of students. The college had lost out on Learning and Skills Council funding as a result of poor recording of student completion data, meaning that the achievements of lecturers had effectively gone unrecorded for purely bureaucratic reasons. That was potentially as damaging to staff morale as it was to the college's coffers.

So Mr Lumsdon-Taylor has given other struggling colleges something to be positive about. He has proved it possible, even for an outsider, to make sense of the mysteries of college funding. And Hadlow, happily, is no longer struggling.

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