Tonbridge’s Hadlow College is first in UK to face ‘educational administration’

Tonbridge's Hadlow College is first in UK to face 'educational administration'
LEARNING A LESSON: Hadlow College is entering 'uncharted territory' after requesting to go into administration

The move comes as the college is being investigated by the Further Education [FE] Commissioner 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.

They were also chief executive and deputy chief executive respectively of the Hadlow Group, which also runs West Kent College, its sister site in Ashford and Hadlow Rural Community School. Overall there are around 10,000 students attending the group’s various sites.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds made the application at the request of Hadlow College, and the Chief Insolvency and Companies Court judge Nicholas Briggs approved it in the High Court.

Three insolvency practitioners from accountants BDO have been appointed to run the college.

Tom Tugendhat, the MP for Tonbridge & Malling, described the situation as ‘uncharted territory’ and has called for the officials to ensure that its 2,089 students are ‘protected’.

He has worked closely with the Department for Education and FE Commissioner Richard Atkins to establish the best way out of financial difficulty with as little impact on staff and students as possible.

Mr Tugendhat said: “I’ve been deeply concerned by the accounts I have been hearing about the way public money has been used, and have asked the Skills Minister to keep a very careful record as the investigation goes on.

“Hadlow College is a really important part of the local community and I am keen to see the rights of students protected.”

‘The scale of the financial mess is so deep and unheard of nationally that special circumstances have to be considered’

He said he had ‘spent a considerable amount of time with the previous leadership trying to get more funding for the group. It’s important to know where this has been spent’.

He added: “The law has been changed recently to ensure the needs of the students come before any creditors.

“I am particularly reassured that this law is now in place.

“In January, a new insolvency regime for Further Education colleges was introduced, so there is an orderly process in place for managing financial difficulties where a college enters administration.

“Clearly this isn’t an outcome any college wants. But the scale of the financial mess is so deep and unheard of nationally that special circumstances have to be considered.”

He has written to Anne Milton, the Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships, to seek reassurance.

The FE Commissioner’s probe follows an inquiry by the Education and Skills Funding Agency [ESFA] into money paid to the group for apprenticeship schemes.

The ESFA dispute that it was entitled to millions of pounds. Repaying the money could further damage the group’s finances.

The FE Commissioner is expected to make a recommendation to the Department for Education about the future of the Hadlow Group in mid-June, with an announcement due at the end of the month.

Mr Tugendhat observed that while the students are a priority, local businesses are also affected by the parlous state of the group’s finances.

And he pointed out that while the college has 300 acres of land around the village which is used for its ‘unique’ courses, this should not be disposed of in the same way that car parks were sold to developers at West Kent in order to raise funds for the group.

In his letter to Mrs Milton he said: “Options, as far as I can see, would include a financed recovery authorised by the Secretary of State through loaning Hadlow Group the money, declaring the Hadlow Group insolvent or putting it into administration.”

Potential goldmine

Hadlow College is looking to sell its visitor centre and business park in Betteshanger, east Kent, which is valued at £40million.

Former deputy principal Mark Lumsdon-Taylor planned to build a Kent Mining Museum on the site, which used to be a colliery. It was due to open in March but has been put on hold.

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