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Goodbye to Bilston

I WRITE regarding Paul Goddard-Patel's Viewpoint "Goodbye: we won't miss you" (TES, July 7).

I am surprised at the shortness of Paul's memory, considering it is only 17 months since (Bilston), the college where he was finance manager, gained, ahead of considerable competition from Halton College, the title of "worst college in England".

His former college expanded through "open-ended" franchising at such velocity that it had a course in nearly every borough of the United Kingdom, even evangelising "let it rip" franchising through a July 1996 "How to double your units" conference.

The boom inevitably came down on that in January 1997, when the Conservative administration refused to pay out even more units at the cash-for-growth rate.

It is surely disingenuous of Paul to blame the Further Education Funding Council for obeying this Government's instructions to bridle an inherently volatile, "boom and bust" funding method.

Then there were Bilston's ubsidiary companies. I can just about see why a football club (Bilston Town) should have interlocking directorates with the senior management of a publicly-funded FE college, but I cannot see where a subsidiary company importing Russian champagne fits. The FEFC has reined in that aspect of unregulated FE college operations as well, and also made subsidiaries accountable to college governors.

I am not surprised that "friends" of Bilston want to cast the FEFC as a menacing bureaucracy, because it rightly burst this unself-critical franchising bubble. Bilston failed all its learners, lost the confidence of its staff and diluted a useful concept of community education.

So I say to Paul "goodbye, we won't miss you", welcome Wolverhampton College and the LSC, and salute the FEFC, which has listened and done its best for students.

Mark Atkinson

National Union of Students

Vice-president, further education

461 Holloway Road

London N7

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