Principal resigns weeks after Ofsted downgrade

Financial concerns have also surfaced as Bath College drafts in troubleshooter

Financial concerns have also surfaced as Bath College drafts in troubleshooter

A Somerset college principal has resigned with immediate effect after quality and financial problems came to light.

Jayne Davis stepped down as the head of Bath College during half term for “personal reasons”.

She will be replaced in the interim by college troubleshooter and FE Commissioner special adviser Martin Sim.

The leadership change comes weeks after Ofsted downgraded the college from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’, in a report which warned that leaders “do not have sufficient and consistent oversight of the quality of education” for its 5,000-odd learners, and “do not recognise weaknesses quickly and accurately”.

Bath College also missed the government’s January 31 deadline for publishing its 2023 accounts, with the latest published board minutes suggesting the financial health of the college is worsening.

Davis served as a deputy principal at the college from 2016 and took up the top job in 2021.

Jayne Davis

Bath College chair Andy Salmon, who previously spoke of the “significant pressure” put on staff involved in an Ofsted inspection, told FE Week it would be “wrong for us to comment” on the “personal reasons” that led to Davis handing in her resignation.

He thanked Davis for her “considerable contribution” to the college, but added: “While acknowledging all that Mrs Davis achieved, it is also important that we look to the future to ensure our educational success and financial sustainability.”

Financial statements for 2022 show that Bath College’s deficit grew to £1.1 million, an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) of £904,000, £3.9 million in cash and a ‘good’ financial health rating with the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

But board minutes throughout 2023 suggest finances have begun to deteriorate. Governor meetings discussed how the college breached bank covenants and its financial health rating had dropped to ‘requires improvement’.

The minutes also said the college will record a bigger deficit than forecasted in the 2023 accounts, with cash falling and staff costs rising.

In a May 2023 meeting one governor suggested that a “root and branch business transformation approach might be required if the college remains in a position where it cannot achieve surplus”.

The chair then commented that volume of income in future years needed to increase “significantly to enable an offset against the cost challenges in year”.

Its latest accounts noted how there is an “optimum size” of colleges that secures stability, sustainability, facilitates investment and security. Research has shown this to be around £25 million income, but Bath College’s total income sat below £22 million in 2022.

The college is also engaged in a potentially costly legal dispute. Its 2022 accounts described how an unnamed organisation is claiming payment for work it claims to have done on the college’s behalf, seven years ago, amounting to £426,000.

The college “does not believe anything is due to this organisation and is defending the claim”, the accounts added.

FE Week understands the board is concerned about potential financial risks to the college were the case to go to court or to fail, and therefore authorised Davis to negotiate a settlement up to a ceiling of £150,000.

The college told FE Week it cannot comment on legal proceedings but confirmed the case is ongoing.

Incoming interim principal Martin Sim served as a deputy FE Commissioner from 2019 to December 2023, and currently acts as an adviser to the commissioner.

He’s been parachuted into several struggling colleges in recent years including West Nottinghamshire College, Barnfield College, Gateway College, Nottingham College and most recently City College Southampton.

Salmon said Sim was appointed through a recruitment partner and while the college works closely with the government and FE Commissioner’s office, there is currently “no formal intervention in place”.

The chair told FE Week that the college’s student recruitment levels are “strong”, but there is “work that needs to be done to help us achieve our ambitious target of a good financial health rating over the next few years”.

He added: “As part of this, we are looking at how we enhance our financial planning and resilience. We have, for example, been working with our auditors to finalise two details in our latest annual accounts to ensure that the figures that we publish are robust and accurate.”

The college expects to publish its 2023 accounts “around the Easter break”.

Sim will take the reins after the Easter break. Until then, the college said its executive team, chair and board will “work closely with internal and external stakeholders”. 

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