Hoist by his own petard

William Wardle's view of the state of affairs at James Watt College is, as one would expect, singular (TESS last week).

Poor man, everyone has let him down: the board, the FE development directorate, the funding council, management, the teaching staff and, especially, the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Vertiginous indeed, it seems, has been the descent of his opinion from 2002: "I arrived to find the college in great shape, and with a dedicated staff of the highest calibre in place." Yet his short tenure as principal has brought the college to such a pass that, as your feature noted, closure was mooted in some quarters - though, happily, this has been ruled out by the Deputy Lifelong Learning Minister.

How assured a grip Mr Wardle had on the college's steering may be judged by, among many other things, an email from him to all staff on December 5, 2005 in which he said: "It is important to stress that the finances of the college are fundamentally sound and that, by taking the steps we have identified, we expect to record a surplus position in the current year."

In his comments to you, Mr Wardle expressed the view that, had he been the source of the problem, it would have gone away when he left. One hesitates to dignify this reasoning with a response, but it is easy to cause a problem in minutes that may take years to resolve.

Anent the costs of overseas travel, mentioned in the FEDD report, Mr Wardle points out that colleges were being encouraged to win overseas business.

Yes. But before he came, we had it. The expenditure of pound;30,000 on refurbishing an office and pound;50,000 on a minibus are considered "comparatively small change" by him. To a man handed pound;130,000 of public money to buzz off leaving a trail of destruction, those sums no doubt do seem a mere bagatelle.

Mr Wardle defends his restructuring efforts. His first and largest, shortly after his arrival, was expensive and devastating and no information has been produced, despite requests, to demonstrate any financial or educational benefit to the college or its clients. Subsequent efforts were no better.

Teachers at James Watt are paid pound;10 a week more than colleagues at our neighbour, Reid Kerr College, which is enjoying gratifying success following changes to senior management some years ago. Terms of service are similar. It is invidious to criticise the EIS over the fact that one college pays teachers more than another when it has consistently argued for nationally agreed salaries, terms and conditions. Mr Wardle could have had much more fun with his budget if only staff had agreed to work twice the hours for half the money.

It was kind of The TESS to give Mr Wardle his own petard, and interesting to observe him employ it in the generally accepted manner.

David Boyce

Bute Street, Gourock

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