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Critics of 'crisis' Penwith line up

AN election candidate has described Penwith College in Penzance as "in crisis" and is to ask the Learning and Skills Council to investigate its management.

Separately, present and former members of staff at the college have contacted FE Focus and complained of an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation at the college.

William Morris, prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in the St Ives constituency, said the college was in "meltdown". He said there had been a 16 per cent drop in student numbers, whereas Truro and Cornwall colleges were each exactly 6 per cent up. "Fewer than half the school-leavers from Penwith taking A-levels now go to Penwith college to study A-levels," he said.

"Only drastic change can halt this decline. Average academic results for students taking two or more A-levels at Penwith are below the average for comparable colleges locally.

"I want an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the top management team at Penwith. Urgent action is required or the governors must resign."

But Bob Orme, a spokesman for the college, defeded its reputation. He said Penwith was in the top 10 colleges in England and Wales for academic achievement.

He confirmed the 16 per cent drop, but said this was because of the declining marketplace in local schools.

One member of staff said they felt it was difficult to pursue management criticisms with the governing body when the clerk was also the vice-principal.

Mr Orme said the clerk had two job specifications, one as vice-principal and one as clerk. He said the college was following guidelines laid down by the former Further Education Funding Council.

The Learning and Skills Council, which has superseded the FEFC, said: "In some cases it might be appropriate for a member of management team to be clerk, but the governing body should be satisfied that independence is assured."

The council said it did not produce league tables of colleges. The only list was one of accreditedbeacon colleges. This was last updated in March and does not include Penwith.

When last inspected, in 1997-98, Penwith received good grades for both governance and management.

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