The FE Commissioner visited Stratford-Upon Avon College after its financial health was rated as inadequate by the Skills Funding Agency. Dr David Collins’ findings questioned the future of the cash-strapped college that saw governors resign after new principal Nicola Mannock was appointed without a competitive application process. She responds to Dr Collins’ report and defends her appointment.
The FE Commissioner completed the college assessment in May 2014 and we received the summary report a month later.
The findings highlighted that progress was being made in delivering the necessary quality and financial improvements; however the report identified serious weaknesses in the governance arrangements.
Immediate and decisive action was taken upon receiving the report, which resulted in changing the college’s governance structure, prompting the resignation of five governors.
Strong governance is vital to a college’s success and changes to the board are focused on recruiting additional expertise from the active business community, in line with the commissioner’s findings.
Two new governor appointments were approved by the Skills Minister at the end of July and the full board will be in place for the start of the new academic year in September.
Financial mismanagement resulted in the college posting operating deficits for each of the last five financial years, which was further compounded by the governors’ failure to challenge the then management team on its performance, and to hold the former principal to account.
Since being appointed as acting principal in November 2013, my attention has been focused on developing a completely new management team, which has undertaken a major restructuring programme. This has significantly helped to strengthen our financial position and the latest forecasts show an income surplus over expenditure for the first time in five years.
The major restructuring of the college actually started in February 2014 and was completed by the end of May 2014, just two weeks after the FE Commissioner’s visit.
Consequently, Dr David Collins was impressed with the fast progress made in terms of the significant financial savings by the time he arrived to conduct his assessment.
For clarification purposes, my appointment as permanent principal reflected the seriousness of the college’s quality and financial position last year and the urgent need for stability.
It was the governing body’s decision to take swift action rather than delay an appointment by three months, and avoid incurring substantial recruitment costs.
Although I was not party to the consultation or meetings in which my appointment was approved, I believe the main driving force for the decision was that the board, staff and internal and external stakeholders were happy with my performance to date and were confident in my ability to deliver a robust college recovery (this was commented on by Dr Collins in his report), and that an expensive recruitment process was not appropriate while the college was undergoing a significant restructure to reduce staffing costs.
Stakeholders, staff, students and unions were consulted at the time about my appointment and provided positive feedback together with a vote of confidence from the board of governors to deliver a robust recovery plan.
The governor who left on point of principle at my permanent appointment resigned prior to notification of the FE Commissioner’s assessment of the college.
The other five governors who tendered their resignation did so on receiving the FE Commissioner’s assessment summary and recommendations — not in relation to my appointment.
The college now has the strong support of staff and stakeholders alike and we have received a very positive response, from both in and outside of the college, in respect of our achievements.
As a result of the difficult decisions taken to invest in the long term sustainability of the college, we have been able to secure its financial future and enhance the future development and success of our students. This has been further reinforced by last week’s best ever A-level results, with students gaining a 100 per cent pass rate in English and maths and a 7 per cent increase in those achieving high grades.
While we have achieved a great deal over the last nine months, there is still a lot to do and the college remains committed to its transformation journey.
We also look forward to working further with the FE Commissioner and Ofsted to continue to raise standards.
Our vision is to be an outstanding, responsive and thriving independent college, which confirms that we have no intention of considering any merger plans in the future.