A college is in a “perilous position” and could be facing education administration by the end of the year, according to the further education commissioner.
In a report, published today, the commissioner says Moulton College is “in a perilous position with regards to both its financial sustainability and the quality of provision for learners”. He adds that the chair of the board, governors and the recently appointed principal face a series of significant challenges to secure the college’s future as a standalone institution, will require support and “will need to work at pace if they are to succeed”.
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College under threat
He adds that if the planned cash receipts have not been received by December 2019, then the college’s auditors will need to consider if the college is a going concern and “it will need to be considered for education administration”.
According to the commissioner, the Northamptonshire college’s chair “did not give the impression that there was an urgent and dire need to address at pace quality failings or the serious financial position the college finds itself in”.
“It did not appear that the impact of possible insolvency, which would include the college being placed in education administration, and the perilous position the college finds itself in was fully recognised by the board or the incoming new principal. Governors have not held previous managers to account in an effective way, especially in driving at pace quality improvement. Too many students have been failed by the college.”
The commissioner adds that an Ofsted inspection in 2019, which found the college to be “inadequate”, showed that quality had deteriorated further since the original "inadequate" outcome in 2018.
“The complexity, range and deep-seated nature of multiple challenges facing the college will be extremely difficult to address within the timeframe that may be available. The type and severity of challenge will require strong and effective leadership from the chair and incoming principal, both of whom are unlikely to have experienced such a massive challenge previously,” says the commissioner.
Supervised college status
The commissioner makes a range of recommendations – including a recovery plan and the introduction of a robust and effective student tracking system.
Responding to the report, Department for Education minister Lord Agnew wrote to the college, saying that he was placing it into supervised college status with immediate effect. “The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) will attend all future board meetings and finance and resources committee meetings,” he said.
Corrie Harris, who was appointed as Moulton College’s chief executive in July, said: “We are aware of the recent release of FE commissioner’s intervention summary report of Moulton College, which relates to a visit that took place in June of this year. We have moved quickly to address the balance of the recommendations the commissioner included in his report, as well as making changes we believe are necessary to vastly improve the offering here at Moulton College.
“We have made substantial progress to that end in the last three months with the objective of delivering the best possible learning experience for all our students and making a significant contribution to businesses and the community in Northamptonshire. There is a new and more effective management structure in place and everyone is working hard to ensure our students get the best possible experience at Moulton College. Recent visits by both the FE commissioner and Ofsted have recognised the pace of our progress. We remain committed to improving and to building new partnerships to enhance the offer to our students.”
Also today, the FE commissioner team published its report on Hartlepool College, paving the way for possible mergers in the area. The report states that while college managers and governors responded quickly to turn around the inadequate financial health grading following the significant deficit in 2017-18 and costs were reduced, the scale of the college’s debt does mean the college will have ongoing pressure on investment in equipment.
“The sustainability of the college as a standalone institution will continue to be tough and finances will continue to be a challenging issue for the college in the long term,” the report concludes, adding that “these financial uncertainties put the student experience and opportunities for learners at risk.
“The FE commissioner will consult with the Tees Valley Combined Authority, Durham County Council and the ESFA with a view to carrying out a local provision review for the Tees Valley and Durham area.”