WEYMOUTH College’s financial position has been severely criticised for having ‘significant weaknesses.’

A review by the Further Education Commissioner has been carried out after the college’s financial health was deemed ‘inadequate’.

It found that there is a need for ‘more stringent financial security’ and has recommended nine actions, including a ‘refresh’ of board members with financial expertise.

The report says that although Weymouth College has ‘developed its provision significantly’ over the past two years and ‘worked hard at improving the quality of what it does’, there has not been ‘due consideration of the financial costs of such developments’.

It states: “The board and senior leadership team lack the financial expertise necessary to run a college of this size and need additional support to return the college to a position of financial strength.”

Minister for skills and enterprise Matthew Hancock said in a letter to the college: “The assessment identified significant weaknesses in the capacity and capability of the existing governance and leadership to deliver financial recovery.

“Governors are guardians of public money and are responsible for ensuring its effective and efficient use. It is therefore essential that the governing body has the necessary skills and experience, and ensures that the leadership has the necessary skills and experience to fulfil these responsibilities.

“(It is) essential that the governance and leadership of Weymouth College recognise the significant weaknesses identified in the FE Commissioner’s review and put in place a robust action that will deliver financial recovery.”

In November, the college said it was facing ‘a challenging public sector economic climate.’ The report found that part of the problem began when the college embarked on ‘ambitious plans’ to grow its provision for 16 to 18 year-olds ‘after several years of decline in learner numbers.’ But ‘unfortunately the college did not ensure it had the necessary finances to fund all its developments in advance.

‘The college asked the Education Funding Agency (EFA) to consider providing in-year growth funding but this was not approved.

‘The college also asked the EFA to accelerate its grant profile for 2013/14 but this was not approved.’ Following intervention, the college produced a ‘draft recovery plan’ but in its present form, this plan ‘is unlikely to deliver the necessary return to a budget surplus and the repayment of the college’s loans within a reasonable time period.’

  • The college re-introduced A-levels back into its curriculum in 2012. The controversial decision to drop A-levels in 2011 sparked protests among students and a march was organised by the Students’ Union to demonstrate support for the subjects.

Cost-cutting moves lead to staff redundancies 

STAFF numbers at the college have been reduced since 2010, when the college employed 650 workers.

In November 2013, the college had 492 workers on its payroll.

Nine people were made redundant in July 2010 after the college received a half-million-pound shortfall in funding from the Learning and Skills Council.

Changes to the senior management team were made in 2011 after a vote of no confidence which was backed by Unison and the University and College Union (UCU). Fourteen staff members faced being made redundant in a cost-cutting move last November.

A two-and-a-half-week consultation was being carried out at the college to explore the option of axing 14 staff members, including a team of full and part time ‘learning mentors’ and some administrative workers.

More student numbers lead to rapid transformation

LEADERS at Weymouth College say ‘short-term financial pressures’ have been caused by its ‘rapid growth’ and increased student numbers.

Vice-Principal Rob Jones said: “Weymouth College is undergoing an impressive transformation.

“We’re one of the fastest growing colleges in the UK and our latest success rates are among the highest in the country. “Ironically, this rapid growth causes some short-term financial pressures.”

Principal Liz Myles said: “Both the management and governors of the college are fully engaged with the Commissioner and his team and remain fully committed to building on improvements that are already under way and to make further changes where appropriate.”

The college, which is now in the top 10 per cent of UK colleges based on latest success rates, has experienced increased financial pressures due in part to increases in student numbers.

Axed employee hits out at report findings AN AXED member of staff has hit out following the findings and labelled the situation at the college ‘scandalous.’ The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I was made redundant at Christmas and this report shows there are severe financial problems.

“I am so upset. I and my colleagues lost our jobs and now this report shows the college can’t deliver a sustainable financial recovery. It really makes me feel sad because it’s education that will lose out at the end of the day.”

  • WEYMOUTH College was told it ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted inspectors last year.

The college’s ‘overall effectiveness’ rating had not improved since its last inspection in 2010, when it was considered ‘satisfactory’, according to the former Ofsted framework.

But principal Liz Myles, who started in the role in November 2012, vowed that the college would be ‘outstanding’ within five years.

A NUMBER of recommendations from the Further Education Commissioner were outlined in the report:

  • The chairman should refresh the membership of the board with new members bringing financial and FE expertise
  • The board should develop and implement a targeted training programme to enable them to understand better the FE sector and also the contribution that that board can make to the college’s development
  •  The principal should engage a ‘peer mentor’ with a financial expertise to join the senior leadership team
  • The chair and principal should conduct a skills analysis of the senior leadership team and then implement a training programme to ensure that staff have the necessary financial skills to address the college’s current difficulties
  • The senior leadership team should produce a detailed curriculum plan for 2014/15 and ensure that it is resourced efficiently.

They should then produce a revised recovery plan which is both realistic and consistent with the curriculum offer

  • The senior leadership team should also review its risk management processes in the light of the experience of the last two years and ensure that they are robust
  • In the light of the senior leadership team’s skills gaps in this area, and the urgency of the task, the college should secure additional resources to enable this work to be done
  • The FE Commissioner should closely monitor the college and report on progress