Published: 00:01, 04 March 2017
Canterbury College was plunged into financial ruin under the leadership of a “controlling and dictatorial” principal, a damning government report has found.
The further education commissioner states the working environment ex-boss Alison Clarke oversaw left colleagues “petrified into dysfunction” as the college ran out of money in July.
Ms Clarke left the college the same month after 10 years in charge to be replaced by East Kent College principal Graham Razey, who immediately effected improvements as the two organisations head towards a formal merger this summer.
The commissioner noted that under Mr Razey the atmosphere had been transformed into one of “openness and transparency”.
But his report into the previous administration run by Ms Clarke revealed: “The former senior leadership team were described by staff during the visit as being ‘petrified into dysfunction’ and the principal as ‘controlling and dictatorial’.”
The college’s financial health in 2011/12 was considered “good”, but by 2014/15 it was ruled “inadequate” after the college built up long-term loans which left it servicing a debt it could not afford.
It was left further financially crippled after deciding to use cash reserves to pay for a new £9 million sports centre, business hub and art studios on the New Dover Road campus.
The commissioner’s report states: “After many months struggling to pay its creditors, the college finally ran out of cash in July 2016 and had to be supported by the Skills Funding Agency in order to pay the July 2016 salaries.”
The commissioner is also highly critical of the college’s corporation – effectively its governing body – which is chaired by Canterbury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael.
The board failed to properly oversee senior management as it plunged an organisation with “no culture of saving money” into ruin. From her appointment in 2006, Ms Clarke’s salary had risen 60% by 2014 – up from £98,000 to £157,000.
It was £162,000 when she left. At the same time, the college’s educational results were deteriorating, resulting in three damning Ofsted reports.
The FE commissioner’s report goes on: “Overall, the board has failed to hold the previous senior management team to account – accepting three consecutive Ofsted ‘requires improvement’ outcomes without serious challenge and being unaware until recently of the true financial position of the college.
“They were too trusting without having checks and balances in place to ensure they had the full picture of what was happening.”
Canterbury College’s financial crisis forced it to shed 40 jobs and scrap its A-level and IT provision.
However, the report praises the college’s new management, led by Mr Razey.
He became principal in the summer and started work on finding savings of £3 million as part of a huge reorganisation and merger with East Kent College.
The report concludes: “Canterbury College has gone through a difficult period in its history.
“The prospect of a merged institution by August 2017 bodes well for both the learners and employers of the area.”
Mr Razey says the college accepts the findings “unreservedly”.
“Since the report was written, the commissioner’s team has visited us again, and we are very pleased to say they have seen significant progress,” he added.
Skills and apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon has also written to Colin Carmichael to stress the need for improvement.
Mr Carmichael said: “As a governing body, we accept what the commissioner has recommended, and are comfortable that we have taken the necessary action to secure the best possible teaching and education for students of the college, which continues to remain our ultimate priority.
“The board did what it needed to do and got in a new management team, which is already delivering results – we have moved on a huge amount from just a year ago.”