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Board may have to quit in Ward's wake

The board of the Association of Colleges will resign if there is substantial disquiet among the colleges at next week's briefing of chairs and principals in Birmingham.

The board of the Association of Colleges has called an open meeting next week to review the actions taken concerning the departure of Roger Ward, its chief executive, and the inquiry set up to examine allegations of impropriety by him.

More than 150 signatures have been collected in support of an emergency general meeting to consider sacking the board. Nevertheless, those opposed to the continuance of the present board would prefer they instead chose to "fall on their swords" and resign.

Board chair Jim Scrimshaw, when told of the number of signatures supporting an EGM, said: "My reaction is straightforward. I am firmly of the opinion that for the AOC and the board to operate effectively, they have to have the full support of member colleges. If there is a number of colleges who do not believe the board is capable of performing properly, that will detract from our efforts.

"We have to ensure that we focus on what is a very exciting time. If there is even a minority of colleges, then the board would stand down. It would be very damaging to the sector to have an EGM. We have a meeting on February 12, and that would be the first occasion to get the feeling of sentiment of a broad number.

"If there is a substantial view at that meeting, it would be a decision for the board," added Mr Scrimshaw, widely admired in the sector. He said that he would be prepared to stand again.

A standing-down of the board would end the turmoil in the sector following the legal inquiry into Mr Ward and his resignation. Neither side ultimately wants an EGM but many feel some of the present board are tainted by their former close association with Mr Ward.

Others think election or even re-election would restore authority to the board. The board meets next Tuesday and will review the procedure for selecting the new chief executive.

Earlier this week, colleges showed the depth of their concern and called for a fresh start. Annette Zera, principal of Tower Hamlets College, in London said: "The sector has had enough bad press with the debacle over the behaviour of the chief executive, bringing us into disrepute at the highest level with the Commons education and employment select committee.

"The classic, sensible and honourable thing for all those involved is to offer themselves for reselection. I would respect them if they did that. That would be much better than asking for an EGM. Everyone would see that the AOC can think carefully about leadership and everyone could get behind them.

"But this is something we should not be saying to the board. This is something they should be telling us. If I was a board member, that is what I would be saying."

Dorothy Jones, principal of Southwark College, said: "We do not want to have to demand an EGM. It is in the best interests of the FE sector as a whole that we have a fresh start. And that must start at the top."

"We cannot have an EGM at the meeting in Birmingham because there is not enough notice. But I intend to raise all the issues of concern that we have, but in the context of needing to work within a united sector, and recognising the contributions the board has made."

Picking up the pieces, page 32

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