Another boss of huge college group in financial trouble resigns with immediate effect

The principal of one of the biggest college groups in the country has stepped down with immediate effect.

John Connolly, who heads up the RNN Group, is leaving by “mutual agreement” with the group’s board, after year in which the group has faced criticisms over its leadership, the quality of apprenticeship provision and planned for a loss of over £1 million for this academic year.

A notice announcing his departure said: “John Connolly has considered for some time whether he is the right person to take the RNN Group on to the next stage of the group’s journey.

“After discussion with the board, and by mutual agreement, John will take a step down from his day to day activities with immediate effect.”

It added that he will continue to work with the board during the “transitional period” while they look for a replacement, and thanked Mr Connolly for his “contribution, commitment, professionalism and achievement in bringing the RNN Group together”.

The organisation, which incorporates Rotherham College, North Notts College and Dearne Valley College, has completed two mergers in the last four years and recently opened a £10.5 million higher education facility in Rotherham.

Minutes from a board meeting in March 2018 reveal the group planned to be facing a loss of £1.3 million by the end of this academic year.

“An initial draft budget was presented, indicating a loss of £1.3million for 2018/19, before any measures to offset income reduction,” the minutes reported.

“Income had declined by £281,000 compared to the original budget, mainly due to a reduction in 16-18 numbers, a shortfall in apprenticeships, and lower than expected HE enrolments.”

The minutes also said that all teaching staff were on 900 hour contracts, although average group sizes “had declined to around 13”. Despite the possible drop in finances, “provision for a one per cent pay award” was included in the 2018/19 budget.

Although the RNN Group has been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted since an inspection in 2013, an early monitoring visit carried out in February warned it was making ‘insufficient progress’ in managing subcontracted provision effectively.

“During a period in which senior leaders and managers oversaw two college mergers, their management of all subcontractors and subsidiary companies was not good enough,” the report warned, adding that on several apprenticeships programmes “the quality of provision was poor and achievement rates were low.”

In 2016/17, the group had 2,569 apprentices and 14,860 learners. That year, Mr Connolly’s salary was £144,000, making him the 83rd most highly paid principal. The RNN Group’s income was £47.1 million, cementing their place as the 23rd biggest college.

Mr Connolly’s resignation from a major college is the fourth in just three weeks.

Andrew Cleaves, one of the highest paid principals in the country, stepped down from Birmingham Metropolitan College on September 25. He was followed by Dame Asha Khemka, another highly paid principal, who resigned as principal of West Notts on October 1. Just last week, Joe Docherty quit as principal of the NCG group with immediate effect.