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Board isolated over Ward crisis claims

Ministers and funding chiefs this week dismissed claims by the Association of Colleges that they supported the way the board had handled affairs which culminated in chief executive Roger Ward's resignation.

An AOC letter to colleges said: "We have spoken directly to key people in the DFEE and FEFC and elsewhere on this matter, and received their overwhelming expressions of confidence and support."

But both the Department for Education and Employment and the Further Education Funding Council said that they had not offered support nor commented on the affair.

Privately, David Melville, FEFC chief executive was said to be furious that the council's name had been used to suggest official approval of the board's activities. Ministers are also understood to be concerned and have asked officials for regular updates.

Robin Newton-Syms, FEFC head of communications, said: "We recognise and support the role of the AOC in representing the sector. But we have certainly not made any comments, as the letter clearly implies, in support of the specific course of action they have taken with regard to Roger Ward because it is an AOC matter."

Likewise, a DFEE spokesman said: "Ministers have been kept informed but have always regarded this as a matter for the AOC."

Jim Scrimshaw, chair of the AOC, denied any intention to mislead and said that the DFEE and FEFC were kept "fully informed". "We would not ask or expect specific endorsement of particular decisions taken by the board."

While the AOC claimed high-level backing for its stance, pressure mounted among principals and chairs of governing bodies for the AOC board to be ousted.

The AOC board has called a general meeting to answer questions on the Ward affair and forge a new way forward for the association. It will be held in Birmingham in two weeks, immediately after the FEFC annual meeting for principals.

A large group of principals and chairs has called an emergency general meeting to consider sacking the board. More than 50 supporting signatures had been received as The TES went to press, and a team of principals were meeting in London to discuss strategy.

They are unhappy with the board's handling of Mr Ward's departure which followed The TES revelations of a #163;650-a-month consultancy agreement with a leading finance company.

Many are convinced the only way forward is to elect a new board. Even if members of the present board stand again, it would at least have the authority currently lacking, they say.

Principals want the new chief executive to be appointed by a new board.

However, there is widespread support for the present chair of the AOC, Jim Scrimshaw, chair of governors of Barking College.

Many of the people calling for the meeting feel the board exercised insufficient control over Mr Ward while appointing him twice - first at the Colleges Employers Forum and then at the successor AOC.

Other members of the board still seen as commanding sufficient support include, David Kissman, chair of Broxtowe College and John Guy, principal of Farnborough Sixth Form College.

Some conservative principals will not want to sack the whole board. One option being considered is that Mr Scrimshaw be invited to stay as acting chair while elections take place.

Principals plan to ask for the meeting to be held in place of the one arranged by the board. Colin Flint, principal of Solihull College, said: "The AOC is being damaged, not by stories in The TES but by some of those who purport to speak for it." He said the board's meeting would have "dubious status".

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