Administrators take over another Tonbridge college to protect students

The Hadlow Group is being investigated by the Further Education Commissioner [FEC] over allegations of financial irregularities.

The probe was launched following the resignation of principal Paul Hannan and his deputy Mark Lumsdon-Taylor earlier this year.

Hadlow College, which is also run by the group, had already entered educational administration in May.

It was the first college in the country to do so after the FEC, Richard Atkins, visited it and found it had ‘completely run out of money’.

The process is primarily designed to ensure that the provision of courses continues, with the interests of creditors coming second.

Now West Kent has applied to do the same and has been accepted, along with its sister site Ashford College. There are 343 staff and 2,626 students at the Brook Street location.

It is seen as a positive move while the future of the various strands of the Hadlow Group are resolved.

Mr Atkins has recommended that the group should be split up and the different colleges be run by other educational providers in the county.

He said that West Kent and Hadlow College should be taken over by North Kent College.

That would keep the two neighbours together, while he also calls for Ashford College to be handed over to East Kent College instead.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency [ESFA] has said that applying for educational administration is the most effective way of achieving this complex transaction. 

Tom Tugendhat, the MP for Tonbridge & Malling who has worked closely with the FEC and the Department for Education, welcomed the news.

He said: “I am assured by the college and administrators that this is a necessary step in order to safeguard the long-term interests of students and staff at West Kent College.

“This is very much part of the solution, rather than the emergence of another problem.

“I am delighted that the Further Education Commissioner agrees that its partnership with Hadlow College is essential for the education of students in Tonbridge – something that I made very clear to him and the Department for Education during his assessment.”

‘This is part of the solution rather than the emergence of another problem’

He added: “I spoke at length to the Commissioner and also the then Minister at the Department for Education, Anne Milton, about what is best for us locally.

“I was quite clear that it is essential that the link between Hadlow College and West Kent College remain.

“Both colleges offer completely different courses and ensure that as many needs as possible are served in Tonbridge and the surrounding communities. They both enhance the education available to our children and keeping that connection was essential.”

West Kent and Ashford College [WKAC] were joined together in 2014 when the Hadlow Group acquired them after K College collapsed.

The WKAC board filed a petition to the High Court on August 6. Judge Sally Barber granted it, and WKAC will now be under the legal control of administrators BDO.

The Chair of WKAC’s board, Martin Doel said: “While finances have been stabilised over recent months, the college is faced with exceptional outstanding liabilities and would be insolvent without external support.

“Entering educational administration would provide the college with an effective means of implementing the recommendations in the Further Education Commissioner’s Options Review, which are aimed at obtaining a long-term sustainable solution for the existing provision offered by the college.”

The High Court heard that in 10 of the 13 weeks between July 29 and October 27 2018, WKAC had a cashflow deficit.

It also owed £1.6million in debts that were overdue by over three months, and net liabilities of £17.5million by May 31 this year. Judge Barber described it as ‘plainly insolvent’.

Graham Morley, who was brought in as Interim Principal at Hadlow College, said: “We recognise that students, applicants and their families, alongside employers and other partners, may well be concerned about the impact that the education administration application may have on them and their courses.

“We would like to reassure that this will not affect the day-to-day operations of the college.

“All courses will continue as normal and they [students] should still apply to, and enrol with, us for this September.

“West Kent and Ashford College board has asked the Government to take steps to place the college into education administration in order to secure the long-term future of further education for the communities it serves.”

The Hadlow Group issued a statement which said: “Staff continue to be employed as normal, with no changes envisaged to staffing as a result of the process. Student qualifications are unaffected by the process.”

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