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Council interest in Mancat claims

Claims by some former lecturers at Manchester College of Arts and Technology (Mancat) that they were pressured to fiddle registers and claims for additional learning support may lead to a Learning and Skills Council inquiry.

FE Focus last month revealed the concerns of ex-staff in the English for speakers of other languages and computer imaging departments who felt uneasy about alleged requests to manipulate documentation for funding purposes.

Liz Davis, executive director of Manchester learning and skills council, told FE Focus: "The LSC has confirmed it will investigate specific allegations of possible fraud." And while she says guidance on claiming additional learning support (ALS) is clear, she concedes there is scope for abuse.

"A student signs the ALS form at the start to agree the plan for the year," she said. "It's seen as bureaucratic and unrealistic to get the student to sign at the end. Hence there is a potential risk of fraud. However, the tutor has to keep background records to substantiate the claim - details of contacts, registers etc, which are more difficult to fabricate.

"Where records do not exist or are flawed the auditor will look more closely. One tutor over-egging the claim may get away with it, but not if it's systematic across the college. The system itself is not flawed as it should be picked up in audit."

While Mancat declined to answer specific questions, deputy principal Barbara Forshaw said the college has "robust systems for the investigation of complaints, grievances and whistle-blowing".

She added that anyone with evidence to substantiate their claims should use "formal routes with the appropriate authorities so that an investigation can take place".

But Andrew Harding, a former ESOL lecturer, who claims he was asked to mark absent students as present, has dismissed Mancat's procedures. "We feared that if you drew attention to possible malpractice, you'd get dismissed," he said.

Mancat said that in two previous cases of alleged register fraud, accountants PWC and KPMG investigated, and it was exonerated. Dr Terry Melia, former chairman of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, independently investigated ALS. He gave Mancat a clean bill of health.

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