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Bold report calls for end to AoC

Reform of the Association of Colleges is overdue - by 11 years. Its architect, Roger Ward, the first chief executive, shaped it in 1996 as an instrument of confrontation in his continued drive to wreck union power, drive down pay and casualise the college workforce.

Hubris got the better of Ward, who was forced to step down in January 1998 after his controversial business dealings were exposed by The TES. Prior to his departure, however, he boasted openly to the press that he had created a body irredeemably of his persuasion, with a constitution and balance of power between governors and principals that kept control at the centre and could never be reformed.

Not only did this guarantee years of industrial strife as the gap between the pay of lecturers and schoolteachers yawned ever wider, but factions and schisms hampered and fragmented work. The leadership managed to retain 95 per cent of colleges in membership but they must have constantly asked themselves to what purpose as initiatives drifted into the hands of new boys on the block, like the politically favoured 157 Group of successful colleges.

The strategic review of the AoC, "Colleges England", this week recognises the irredeemable nature of the organisation. In effect, the report by Helen Gilchrist and George Bright calls not for reform but for wholesale dismantling and the creation of a new body - led by a president - regionally active, with cost-effective, well-targeted policies.

It is a bold report. It calls for people of influence in the AoC to relinquish power and for democratisation of the structure. It advocates reaching out to individuals and organisations - through associate membership - who are affected by the colleges but have no say in the decision-making.

With its focus on the improvement of college reputation, it is an excellent modernising blueprint for an organisation in tune with the politics of the day while remaining robustly but constructively critical of it.

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