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London college slammed for 'poor' leadership

Financial management at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College blasted in scathing FE commissioner report

commissioner FE london college finance deficit

Financial management at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College blasted in scathing FE commissioner report

Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College has been placed in administered status, following a scathing FE commissioner report.

In an intervention report, published this morning, Richard Atkins (pictured) highlights a range of issues at the London college.

Former CEO Garry Phillips left at the end of the summer term to become principal at City College Plymouth. This term, Karen Redhead, former CEO of Derwentside College, was appointed his successor.

The FE commissioner also recommends the chair of the board of governors should consider his position in light of the challenges the college faces.

The college was rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2015, followed two months later by an intervention by the FE commissioner. It was subsequently rated good by Ofsted in 2017.

But the latest report concludes that “the executive leadership of the college in relation to delivering an appropriate property strategy and securing overall financial sustainability has been poor”.

“Executive leadership has not provided a properly considered and coherent holistic strategic direction for the college," says the FE commissioner.

"Financial leadership and risk management have been poor. Curriculum and business planning has not been rigorous, with ineffective control of staffing costs and weak operational effectiveness. Poor information and data management has compounded issues.”

Failure to raise income

The college's finance are of particular concern; it failed to achieve its budget for 2016-17, the report notes, due to a significant failure to achieve its budgeted income: “The college's planned income in relation to a number of key income streams was too optimistic. The college had planned for a significant increase in its apprenticeship income. However, only 25 per cent of this increase was achieved.

“Additional income was included for advanced learner loans; however, only 25 per cent was achieved. Other fee income, such as commercial and higher education fees, were also significantly increased from the previous year’s performance and not achieved. Whilst the adult education budget is not showing a reduction, this is because the college engaged subcontractors to deliver the underprovision, resulting in a significant overspend.”

Deficit forecast

The report says the forecast deficit in 2018-19 is “insufficient to cover loan repayments and interest”, and the budgeted deficit will result in deterioration in the underlying cash position of the college. “The same applies for the 2019-20 budget.”

The report adds: “The college has an immediate need for external cashflow support. It will be unable to meet its commitments from early October without support. The college is pursuing options to provide support, including discussions with the ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency].”

The college incurred significant deficits in the period 2012-13 to 2014-15 and received a notice of concern for its financial health in March 2014. The commissioner’s report states that although the college technically met the requirement for the notice of concern for financial health to be lifted, ESFA decided to defer lifting the notice until it had completed additional activity following the sudden change in the senior management team.

Student outcomes are also an area of concern, with predictions that the college will be 2-3 per cent below the national average for overall framework achievement on apprenticeships. The most recent published Department for Education performance-measures data shows that for applied general qualifications at level 3, the college is in the bottom 11 per cent of providers.

“Attendance at both maths and English lessons is poor, at 72 and 71 per cent respectively, remains stubbornly low and requires urgent attention,” says the commissioner report.

'Exciting and ambitious strategy'

A spokesperson for the college said the commissioner's intervention had been based on "emerging short-term financial pressures and recent turnover of managers", and would give the leadership team access to "some of the best expertise available".

"The college has an exciting and ambitious estates strategy which has put a short-term strain on our finances. We are delighted with the recent appointment of Karen Redhead to the role of chief executive and principal and the expertise that she will bring.

“West London College is the top performing college in London for overall achievement and provides an excellent student experience in and outside the classroom," said the spokesperson. 

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