Tonbridge colleges carry on as usual despite Hadlow Group suspensions

The company, which employs 1,400 people, has around 10,000 students in various colleges and campuses in the region.

Hadlow Group has suspended Chief Executive and Group Chairman, Paul Hannan, and Deputy Principal Mark Lumsdon-Taylor. It is also facing an investigation by the Further Education Commissioner into accounting irregularities.

Mr Lumsdon-Taylor had handed in his resignation from his £210,000-a-year position at the end of January, but his notice does not end until March 1. Mr Hannan has been on sick leave from his £264,000 a year job.

The suspensions follow several visits by the FE Commissioner, who it is understood is looking at a series of land purchases between Hadlow College and West Kent and Ashford College (WKAC), which are both part of the group.

Last year Hadlow Group sold buildings and car parks at the West Kent site on Brook Street, with the land being made available for housing.

A spokesperson said the sale ‘will be used to release funds to reinvest in resources for our students, adding: “We expect to release significant funds over £1million to reinvest.”

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling has said he has been in contact with the FE Commissioner to get assurances that students will not be affected by the current investigations.

He told the Times: “I have spoken to the Further Education Commissioner, who has reassured me that classes will continue as normal at Hadlow College, West Kent College and Hadlow Rural Community School, despite the change in leadership.

“It is important that the Commissioner is able to get to the bottom of what has happened and make sure that the Group can continue to provide such excellent education to students.”

The investigations by the FE Commissioner come after the Education and Skills Funding Agency [ESFA] has also conducted an enquiry in money paid to the group, which the ESFA dispute they were entitled to.

The ESFA provides colleges with funding for apprenticeship schemes, and it is understood paying back this money could leave a financial black hole for the group.

A spokesman for the group told the Times: “The governors and senior management team have appointed an independent team of accountants and are working proactively with the FE Commissioner and ESFA on a solution, following some concern around the long-term financial health of the Group.

“Both the Deputy Group Principal and Group Principal are currently suspended. We have also accepted the resignation of the West Kent and Ashford Chair of Governors, Paul Dubrow.

“Our focus throughout this process remains on our students and the continued delivery of good-quality teaching and learning.”

It has been a troubled time for Hadlow Group, which took over West Kent and Ashford College in 2014 but saw the flagship colleges receive a ‘requires improvement’ rating from Ofsted.

Inspectors visited the campuses last year and found too many 16 to 18-year-old students on level one and three diploma courses were leaving early without getting their qualifications.

Hadlow Group has appointed troubleshooter Graham Morley as Interim Principal.

Mr Morley is a seasoned further education professional from the West Midlands who has recently worked as Interim Principal at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College.

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