College hit with ‘poor financial management’ claim

An allegation of poor financial management at a Bedfordshire college, along with concerns about “extensive” staff restructuring and redundancies, has been passed onto Education Secretary Michael Gove.

There are also worries about  “a lack of joint working with the local authority” at Barnfield College, according to two local MPs.

Gavin Shuker, Luton South, and Kelvin Hopkins, Luton North, have written to Mr Gove about the college, which is part of the Barnfield Federation of four primary school academies and six secondary school academies.

The college and the federation are both currently the subject of an investigation — prompted by allegations that have not been disclosed to FE Week  by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Department for Education (DfE).

But a joint statement from the two Labour MPs said: “We have raised a specific allegation, passed on to us on the condition of anonymity, of poor financial management at the college.

“We have also raised concerns about extensive staff reorganisation, large scale redundancies, and a lack of joint working with the local authority.”

A college spokesperson said it was “financially stable” but that a review of the federation’s “operations” at the college was under way.

A local union had warned that hundreds of staff were worried about their jobs during a restructure  programme earlier this year, and the former federation boss stepped down in the summer.

The SFA and the DfE, which acts on behalf of the Education Funding Agency (EFA), declined to comment on allegations against the federation or the college.

A joint statement from the SFA and DfE said: “We have received allegations relating to Barnfield College and the Barnfield Federation. We are taking these seriously and are investigating.”

It added: “We do not comment on ongoing investigations.”

A Barnfield spokesperson said: “The newly-appointed interim chief executive officers of the Barnfield Federation, Stephen Hall and Helen Mayhew, are engaging with the SFA and the EFA to undertake a review of the federation’s operations at Barnfield College and its sponsored academies.

“The college has significant cash reserves and is financially stable.

“Our students are at the very centre of all we do at Barnfield and our recent restructure was designed to create even better education delivery in the future, reduce our costs and enable us to offer an excellent service to the Luton community.”

The founder and former director general of the federation, Sir Peter Birkett, stepped down in the summer having joined Barnfield College as the principal and chief executive in 2005.

His departure came just over a year after college went from an Ofsted rating of outstanding to satisfactory (now termed requires improvement).

The Ofsted report said: “The principal has an ambitious vision for the college’s future as part of the Barnfield Federation.

“Leadership and management are satisfactory as it is only in the current year that actions to strengthen and improve performance at the college are beginning to have a positive impact on reversing the decline in younger learners’ success rates and on apprenticeships. The college’s judgements of its own performance are overgenerous.”

Meanwhile, the college recently completed a major restructure that had seen the local University and College Union receive a letter which stated that 226 staff and 90 full-time equivalent roles were at risk.

The union claimed a number of reasons were given for the restructuring, including plans to ‘introduce new study programmes for 16-19 year olds, raise the participation age and enhance commitment to apprenticeships’.

College principal Miles Dibsdall said at the time: “To match the college’s new teaching and learning delivery model and increased support wrap around services, the staffing structure has also been reviewed.

“During this process a number of staff have opted to take voluntary redundancy  but there have been no compulsory redundancies and we are currently promoting a recruitment fair where trainers, facilitators, assessors and learning mentors will be recruited for a September start.

“We look forward to welcoming our new intake as well as our returning students for what will be an incredibly exciting new term.”