Bournville College: AoC slams 'unacceptable practices'

As ESFA reveals college 'repeatedly’ committed ‘significant’ breaches of financial rules, AoC criticises 'poor governance'

AoC criticised 'unacceptable behaviours' at Bournville College

Senior leaders at Bournville College were guilty of "unacceptable practices" and "poor governance", the Association of Colleges (AoC) has said.

This comes as an Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) report published today details a catalogue of mismanagement at the college, which was closed in 2017 when it merged with South and City College Birmingham.

The report into Bournville College reveals that former principal claimed £200,000 in expenses over four years. He also personally signed off £100,000 in expenses for his wife, Anjum Cave, who he promoted to assistant principal and gave a "substantial pay increase of 22 per cent".

It also noted "significant" breaches of financial regulations were also identified in the cases of £132,000 spent on a campus opening party in 2011, and almost £150,000 on a centenary celebration in 2013.


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Now, in an unusual move, the AoC - the membership body which represents colleges across England - has waded into the issue. The association usually shies away from criticising individual colleges publicly but, in a statement released to Tes, deputy chief executive Julian Gravatt hit out at "unacceptable" behaviour at the college.

“ESFA’s audit found some unacceptable practices. No-one can defend poor governance of public funds," Mr Gravatt said. "The letter is prompted by events that took place in 2014 and earlier. [The] ESFA [is] right that lessons should be learnt and that all colleges need to abide by high standards. The vast majority do, but it is sad that the very good leadership and governance of virtually every colleges is sometimes undermined by the mistakes and behaviours of a few people.”

The college was also criticised by the University and College Union (UCU). Andrew Harden, UCU's head of further education, said the cases such as Bournville "embarrass and damage the sector".

"We have been here far too many times before and reports like these embarrass and damage the sector when the vast majority of us are trying to make the case for much-needed extra funding," he said. 

"We need far greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the governance of our colleges. We want to see more people from the local community on boards as it is local people who suffer when colleges fail."

In a letter to governors at FE and sixth form colleges published today, Eileen Milner, chief executive at the ESFA, wrote that although "such examples are rare", college governors should be vigilant about identifying and challenging activity or behaviour that appears inappropriate.

In the letter she sets out five recommendations to improve college governance.

Regularity, propriety and compliance 

The chair of governors should sign an annual statement of regularity and propriety, and disclose any material irregularity, impropriety for funding non-compliance. A self-assessment questionnaire should also be filled out – and this should be seen as a "living document", not a one-off exercise. Internal policies around financial regulations, conflict of interest and anti-government should be key – if there’s a risk they’re being by-passed by the executive, governors should challenges, and impose stricter controls.

Audit and assurance

Colleges must provide a statement about how they’re meeting the statutory responsibility for effective and efficient use of resources, the solvency of the institution and safeguarding of its assets. Milner points towards the post-16 audit code of practice, and encourages all to regularly review the remit, membership and effectiveness of their adult committee. She also highlights the importance of external auditors. 

Executive pay

Decisions on pay must be evidence-based, proportionate and represent value for money. Milner encourages all to adopt the college’ senior staff remuneration code when deciding on "fair and appropriate remuneration".

Transparency 

Accounts should be published in an easily accessible place –  and should state which governance code has been adopted, and where improvements can be made. 

Open and collaborative working between governors and the executive

Governors need to be a critical friend to executive, and ensure they’re compliant with legal and regulatory requirements. Milner points towards a statement by FE commissioner Richard Atkins that governors must recognise and accept potential problems quickly, take early action and ask for support as soon as possible.

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