Hull College exits intervention after 7 years

Principal Debra Gray said the college has been 'transformed back into a highly respected' institution

Principal Debra Gray said the college has been 'transformed back into a highly respected' institution

20 Feb 2024, 15:35

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Hull College has officially exited formal government intervention after more than seven years under the spotlight.

The FE Commissioner closed the college’s financial notice to improve yesterday. It was first issued in November 2016. 

The college has now moved into post-intervention monitoring and support (PIMS), a period of around six months where the FE commissioner’s team supports colleges through the remaining “low-risk” items in their improvement action plan. 

Debra Gray

Hull College principal and CEO Debra Gray said: “We are delighted to move out of intervention and into PIMS. Every staff member at the college has worked incredibly hard over an extended period to help transform the college back into a highly respected anchor institution in the city.”

Gray joined the college in April 2022, just after the college received its second consecutive ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted judgment. 

The college was reinspected in October 2023 and scored a ‘good’ overall judgment, with ‘outstanding’ grades for its adult learning programmes and personal development.

Hull College was placed in intervention in November 2016. A report at the time by then-FE Commissioner Richard Atkins pointed to spiralling deficits, ‘inadequate’ rated financial health, high staff costs and a request for emergency ‘exceptional financial support’. 

It later emerged a government Fresh Start bailout in the region of £50 million was paid to the college to stabilise its finances. 

The college reduced its staff headcount, transferred one of its colleges to another group and shut a campus to help balance its books.

The notice to improve was updated four times before being closed this week. The latest update for May 2023 said the college needed to sustain its ‘good’ financial health rating achieved in 2020/21 and continue to reduce its use of sub-contracting. The college was also told to “continue to develop its curriculum plan and quality improvement plan to meet the varied needs of its learners and stakeholders, whilst working towards Ofsted ‘good’,” which has now been achieved.

Financial statements for 2021/22 however state the college scored a ‘requires improvement’ financial rating for that year alongside a £2.3 million deficit. Its 2022/23 accounts have not yet been published. 

Staff costs have reduced from 78 per cent of income in 2015/16 to 70 per cent in 2021/22. 

But it wasn’t just finances the colleges were wrestling with.

Allegations of nepotism and “financial wrong-doing” levelled against the college’s then-chief executive Michelle Swithenbank were investigated in 2019. An investigation found “no impropriety” but Swithenbank left the college that year, succeeded by a succession of seven short-term interims until Gray’s arrival in April 2022.

One of those interim leaders, Lowell Williams, launched another investigation into a £240,000 sponsorship deal to name a local rugby club stadium. The deal, signed by Swithenbank, was found to have breached the college’s financial regulations because it wasn’t also signed off by the college’s board.

Gray said the college is now “firmly back at the leading edge of technical and vocational education in the Humber, and we couldn’t be prouder of our staff and students.”

There are currently 13 colleges in formal government intervention, with six entering intervention in 2023, according to FE commissioner Shelagh Legrave’s last annual report.

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