Fresh start for Colleges Scotland to face `new era'

Former first minister will lead body through `radical changes'

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John Henderson is to step down as chief executive of Colleges Scotland, ending months of speculation about the body's future, with former first minister Henry McLeish taking temporary charge of the organisation.

Mr Henderson, who has led Colleges Scotland since March 2011, will leave the post at the end of June. His departure comes after a radical overhaul of the sector, with the regionalisation process leading to mergers of institutions across the country.

In recent years, Colleges Scotland has been criticised for not having a strong voice. Two years ago, it commissioned a review by former BBC Scotland controller John McCormick which found that some chairs and principals felt the body was "dysfunctional" and "lacking focus and clear strategy".

Within months of publication, a rebranding of the organisation followed, together with moves to create a clearer distinction between the lobbying arm and the training arm, now known as the College Development Network. A new board was also appointed.

John Russell, chair at the time, acknowledged that the big challenge was to "maintain [Colleges Scotland's] role as one voice for the sector and address the radical changes in funding and restructuring within it".

Now the organisation has announced that it is making a fresh start under the leadership of Mr McLeish, acting chair of the Colleges Scotland board and Glasgow regional chair.

"This is not a matter of saying what was there was not effective," Mr McLeish told TESS. "There are changes taking place in society, in the economy and in the country, and the sector has also gone through significant changes, with regionalisation and changes in funding. We are on the verge of a new era in which we have to respond more positively to the debate."

Mr McLeish, a former Labour first minister, came under fire from the Conservatives earlier this year after it emerged that his office had claimed more than pound;135,000 in costs and expenses during his time in charge of the Glasgow college region - more than the other regions put together.

Colleges Scotland will continue to represent the sector and also take responsibility for implementing and managing the process of national pay bargaining. Its board will now comprise all 13 regional chairs, as well as four college principals, nominated by their colleagues.

Although Colleges Scotland will continue working closely with the College Development Network, there will be a clearer distinction between the two.

To Mr McLeish, the objective is clear. "I want a sector which has unity and coherence and a better sense of identity," he said. "We have excellence in the sector and we have important things to say. It is more than time that we were able to talk to a wider audience about the excellence that exists. This is the time."

Mr Henderson's decision to leave had been "amicable", said Mr McLeish, and provided the opportunity to create two separate chief executive posts - one at Colleges Scotland and one at the College Development Network. He added that he would "like to thank" Mr Henderson for his role in supporting the sector through the reforms of the past two years.

Mr Henderson said that with the successful implementation of the college regionalisation reforms and the changes to Colleges Scotland and the College Development Network, "the time is right" for him to leave.

"The college sector is in a strong position, having responded positively to the Scottish government's agenda and to the needs of learners, local communities and business. I am proud that Colleges Scotland and the College Development Network have supported the sector through this process," he said.

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