FErret: Niace's new name and the 'nuclear option'


This is an edited version of an article in the 23 October edition of TES. To read the full article, subscribe to TES 

‘Spinning in their graves’

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education is dead. Long live the Learning and Work Institute! FErret may be jumping the gun slightly, but this change to the name of the much-loved adult learning body is expected to be approved at its annual general meeting next month.

The new name is a result of Niace’s move to merge with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, expected to be completed by January.

Plans for a “more streamlined governance structure” are also being put forward. FErret understands that these include significantly reducing the number of board members.

But Niace’s strategic shift has not been universally welcomed. One former board member told FErret that the “founders of adult education would be spinning in their graves”. “I think a lot of Niace members are not happy about the change of direction and name,” they said. “It does seem like the end of Niace. The stronger alignment to the workplace and employer needs is difficult for some. I do not feel able to support the realignment of the aims or name.”

Chief executive David Hughes said he was aware of some members’ unhappiness about the plans. 

“I understand the concerns that we’re losing sight of learning for the sake of learning,” he said. “We’re still focused on adult learning in the round. But we’ve also been focused on things like apprenticeships, traineeships and the low-paid for the last few years. The board has been very clear about that direction.”

A decision on the changes will be made at the Niace AGM on 4 November.

Governance scandals

The announcement that the entire governing body of the troubled Glasgow Clyde College was being sacked in an unprecedented move by Scotland’s education secretary Angela Constance sent shockwaves through the Scottish FE sector earlier this month. Although she had warned that strong action could be taken, few expected her to choose the “nuclear option” of removing the whole board, rather than just the chair.

The college had been in turmoil ever since the suspension of principal Susan Walsh in February; eight months on, the situation had reached deadlock. A disciplinary hearing had not yet taken place, and the college was caught up in a public exchange over union allegations of mismanagement. Leaked documents increased the pressure on all parties. 

But even the drastic action by Ms Constance has not brought an end to the crisis: the principal remains suspended.

And governance issues seem to be even more widespread in Scottish colleges.

Three weeks ago, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee announced it would be taking oral evidence from the former principal and chair of what used to be Coatbridge College in Lanarkshire, about “serious governance weaknesses” in voluntary severance arrangements.

Shortly afterwards, the committee said governance arrangements at the former North Glasgow College had also been “unacceptable”.

Both cases concerned the payments senior managers received as they left the colleges in the run-up to mergers – payments that, FErret understands, ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds
in some cases.

As the Scottish sector continues to work through a painful regionalisation and reform agenda, here’s hoping there are no more skeletons to come out of the closet in the coming weeks.

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