Hadlow Group caretaker: Tonbridge students not affected by finances

GROWING UP: Hadlow's horticultural college and the group's other schools have around 10,000 students

Hadlow Group caretaker: Tonbridge students not affected by finances

by Andy Tong | 17th April 2019

THE man brought in to put the Hadlow Group back on track after the controversies that engulfed it this year, insists that standards of education at its colleges in the Tonbridge area and Ashford will not be affected by financial problems.

Graham Morley has been appointed as interim principal after the resignation of his predecessor Paul Hannan and deputy principal Mark Lumsdon-Taylor amid claims of financial irregularities.

He says that although the issues with funding at Hadlow’s agricultural college and West Kent on Brook Street are serious, they will not affect the courses being taken or teaching provision.

There are around 10,000 students attending all of the Hadlow Group’s schools and colleges.

Mr Morley told BBC South East: “You’ve got the Further Education Commissioner and his team looking into the operations of the college, and the ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency] are looking into the finances and the technical issues that sit behind the funding that we get.

“The future of the organisation as the Hadlow Group, there are questions about that.

“I do think, and I’m very convinced of the fact, that the provision will continue.”

'The financial issues are quite serious, but none are impacting on the students and staff. They are at a strategic rather than an operational level'

He admitted: “The colleges were experiencing some financial difficulty for quite some time.

"The financial issues are quite serious, but none are impacting on the students and staff. They are at a strategic rather than an operational level.

“I want to walk away from Kent having left a really strong, sustainable, successful college or colleges with the provision going way out into the future.”

Nick Linford, editor of FE [Further Education] Week, revealed the scale of the problem: “They have no money, they’ve run out. The government at the moment are having to bail them out, to support them to keep the doors open, and work on a plan to try to work out how to turn this around.”

The Hadlow Group acquired West Kent and Ashford colleges in 2014 after K College, which ran five sites across the county, was broken up with debts of £16million.

It turned the finances around, and then invested £26million in a new Ashford College teaching block which opened in September 2017.

But the project has been beset by difficulties – notably involving grants from Ashford Borough Council based on meeting building targets.

Last month the Department for Education paid BAM Construction £1million after a part of the group was ordered by the High Court to pay outstanding debts to the developers.

Building blocks of the future

Philip Orrell explained the Hadlow Group’s decision to sell part of the West Kent campus to housing developer Ashill, saying: “This is an asset that is under-used with changing requirements in the business, the sale of which will be used to release funds to reinvest in resources for our students.

“We expect to release significant funds over £1million to reinvest.

“And as part of the legal agreement with the developer, we will also be entering into a contract for client work, which will offer opportunities to our students, including training, business development and new jobs that will also include apprenticeships.”

Ashill’s Managing Director Ben Boyce said: “The proposals would create over £270,000 of financial contributions towards education, open space and highways improvements.

“And the development would unlock significant funds for West Kent College to invest in new equipment and machinery, alongside educational resources and facilities.”

Ashill will be giving £106,000 to The Judd School as part of its Section 106 obligations towards the local community.

It is understood this sum will be spent on an intake of students with learning disabilities.

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