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Government steps in as Bradford College reveals financial woes

BRADFORD College has revealed it has a £6 million budget shortfall and will have to find “significant savings”.

The financial crisis at one of the country’s biggest colleges has led to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to issue it with a Notice to Improve.

And in a further development yesterday, Ofsted has rated the quality of its education as requiring improvement.

News of the college’s problems were accompanied by an announcement that Andy Welsh, its group chief executive officer, would be quitting at the end of the academic year to “pursue other goals”.

More than 15,000 students attend the college which has an annual budget of about £56m.

Union officials will meet college bosses next week to discuss the possible impacts of the cuts.

The college has blamed its financial woes on a 27 per cent “real terms” funding cut in higher education facilities since 2009, lower than expected higher education student numbers, its capital repayments, the need to increase cash holdings and predicted inflation rates.

In a statement, it said: “The college’s main priority is to maintain a dynamic and sustainable college.

“In order to meet this goal it must now make significant financial savings, the timescales of which is yet to be determined.

“The college is committed to mitigating the impact on staff and students, and has assured staff it will provide open and honest communications, consultation and support during this difficult period.”

Marianne Quick, regional support officer for the University and College Union, admitted the college’s difficulties had come as a surprise.

She said: “Our priority is to make sure as many jobs, classes and courses as possible are protected.”

Ofsted inspectors visited the college last month and their report rates six out of eight categories require improvement. It was judged good for adult learning programmes and apprenticeships.

Although the report praises some aspects, it states: “The quality of teaching, learning and assessment varies too much across the college.

“Too many learners do not make the progress or achieve at the level at which they are capable, particularly on study programmes and in English and mathematics. The proportion of learners on study programmes who achieve grades A*–C in their GCSEs in English and mathematics is low and declining.”

The college opened its £50m David Hockney Building in 2014, with many of its classes being moved there from other buildings.

However, despite that investment, the Ofsted report says: “Lessons do not always take place in suitable classrooms.”

Of the Ofsted report, the college said: “The report acknowledged that attendance is improving and that plans are in place to increase the number of work experience opportunities but there is more to be done.

“The college is pleased that its adult and apprenticeship provision was praised by the inspection team and both areas were rated ‘good’.”

Richard Wightman, chairman of the college’s Corporation, said: “While the overall Ofsted judgement is ‘requires improvement’ the report highlights many strengths and areas of good practice.

“The college is disappointed in the judgements for teaching, learning and assessment but the report has opened our eyes and will enable us to focus our efforts on making significant improvements rapidly.”

Councillor Imran Khan, Bradford Council’s executive member for education, said: “It is vital that young people can access a high quality and sustainable post 16 education in the district.

“While the Ofsted report does acknowledge some strengths, including the apprenticeships and adult learning programmes delivered by Bradford College, it is important that the college takes steps to make the improvements highlighted in this report and we will look to support this in any way we can.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The ESFA has issued a notice to Bradford College and will work with it to ensure the necessary improvements are made.”

On his decision to stand down, Mr Welsh said: “I have completed three years as Bradford College Group CEO, and 14 years at the college in total. I feel it is now time to move on to pursue other goals.

“During my time in post I have been proud to see the college position itself as a true partner of business, communities and individuals in Bradford.

“It has been great to see the increasing esteem in which the college is held and that the brilliant work of our students and staff is well recognised.

“Student and employer satisfaction has risen and our student success rates are now above the national average.”

Mr Wightman said: “We are grateful for the support Andy has provided in his time as Group Chief Executive Officer and his contributions as a member of the senior team in the previous decade.

“In his role as CEO Andy has made significant efforts to improve and raise the college’s external profile and has fostered strong links with businesses and local communities.

“The Corporation will now reflect on the senior leadership structure the college requires for the future, the governors will work with Andy to ensure a smooth transition.

“We are confident our executive team is wholly committed to addressing the issues facing the college and supporting and guiding our ongoing journey.”

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