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From blame to praise

A college whose management has been engaged in constant battles with the Educational Institute of Scotland has succeeded in impressing HM Inspectorate of Education.

The leadership of Peter Duncan, the principal, and his executive team at Glasgow College of Commerce was praised by HMIE as good. All subject areas and the general running of the college were rated as either very good or good. The major concern inspectors expressed was over guidance, rated as fair.

The college had been involved in an acrimonious, long-running dispute over unfair dismissal with Jim O'Donovan, a lecturer at the college who was national president of the Further Education Lecturers' Association. Mr O'Donovan took the college to an employment tribunal which ordered his reinstatement, but with conditions.

The tribunal's judgment was described by Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, as the worst condemnation of management he had ever seen in all his years as a union official.

But HMIE saw virtues in the college's management. "The principal provided strong leadership on resource and activity management, based on a clear vision of the college's market positioning and learner needs," inspectors stated.

"He was supported well by the management team, and together they had worked hard to overcome the difficulties caused by the absence of key staff in recent years."

HMIE also found good things to say about the college's approach to inclusion, support for learners (which was the only cross-college provision graded very good), staff and quality assurance and improvement. It did have reservations, however, about the college's success in communicating some of its intentions to staff, particularly in relation to inclusion.

Guidance was pinpointed as the main area of concern. "There were important weaknesses in the college's arrangements for guidance," HMIE found.

The report states: "There was insufficient strategic direction to teaching staff to enable them to implement guidance practices and procedures to support learners effectively. This resulted in inconsistencies in the quality and rigour of on-programme guidance and support. The college did not have a core skills policy in place. Arrangements for reviewing and improving the quality of guidance and learner support were not sufficiently or rigorous."

A spokesman for the college welcomed the "objective and constructively critical review".

In this fresh round of HMIE inspections, reports on Angus and Banff and Buchan colleges were also published in the past week.

The leadership of John Burt, principal of Angus College, and his colleagues was rated very good, as was that of Robert Sinclair at Banff and Buchan.

Mr Burt was hailed as one of Scotland's top principals by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, to which he was seconded to help colleges which were struggling. Inspectors described him as "well-considered and measured" and "a respected ambassador" for Scotland's colleges.

All eight subjects inspected, bar one, were judged very good or good, as were all seven general aspects of the college's operations. The subject exception was business, management and administration, where student retention and attainment were said to be low.

However, target-setting for improvement was not robust enough, inspectors found. They also urged the college to evaluate staff training more effectively.

At Banff and Buchan, inspectors rated all general aspects of the college as very good or good, which was also the verdict on the seven subjects scrutinised, with the exception of hairdressing and beauty where learning and teaching was only fair.

Mr Sinclair was said to provide "effective and pragmatic leadership based on a comprehensive knowledge of local and national issues".

Among the points for action was a call for better evaluation of the impact of staff development on learning and teaching.

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