Five colleges handed DfE warnings over finances

Five colleges have been hit with a notice to improve by the government this afternoon, after they were all assessed to have poor financial health and leadership.

They are for: Kensington and Chelsea College, Richmond upon Thames College, East Sussex College Group, Gateshead College and Highbury College.

Two others, Havering College of Further and Higher Education and Easton and Otley College, have had their notices to improve closed.

Colleges subject to notices to improve are typically put into FE Commissioner intervention and must run most spending decisions past the government.

Richmond upon Thames’ was issued following an FE Commissioner diagnostic assessment in August 2019 which recommended that “the college is put into formal intervention and that a member of ESFA staff should attend all future board meetings”.

In particular, the report highlighted the declining financial health of the college and a forecast of significant financial deficit for 18/19, inadequate financial management, control and reporting, as well as “weaknesses in leadership and management”.

Today’s notice added that the FE Commissioner and the ESFA acknowledge the “chair and the governing body’s swift actions to address the situation”.

As previously revealed by FE Week, Richmond’s former principal Robin Ghurbhurun left in July for “personal reasons”, around the same time of a visit from the FE Commissioner amid financial concerns. He has since been replaced by Diane Dimond, a chartered accountant, in the interim.

Highbury’s was issued following an FE Commissioner diagnostic assessment monitoring visit that took place on 4 October 2019.

Richard Atkins’ team was sent into the college after FE Week revealed the principal, who has since been suspended, claimed expenses of £150,000 over four years, following a year-long freedom of information battle.

Highbury’s notice to improve said the FE Commissioner recognises that the college has “made good progress in delivering many of the recommendations there remains significant concern around the college’s leadership and governance, therefore Highbury College has been escalated to formal intervention”.

Gateshead College, rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, has received its financial notice to improve after it launched an investigation into a shock £6 million deficit. Judith Doyle, who was the highest paid principal in England last year, has since retired with immediate effect.

Today’s report said the improvement notice is being issued because Gateshead “has been assessed as experiencing serious cash flow pressures”. The college is now in formal intervention.

East Sussex College Group’s notice to improve only states that it has been assessed as having “inadequate financial health by the ESFA”, and it is now in formal intervention.

Kensington & Chelsea College’s notice follows an FE Commissioner visit in October 2019, the outcome of which signed off on merger plans with Morley College.

Today’s report said the ESFA is now placing KCC in “supervised college status”, due to the “well understood exceptional position and circumstances of the college”. Its deficit for 2018/19 hit just under £6 million.