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Minister seeks intervention at troubled constituency college

The FE minister has expressed fears that Harlow College will be unable to teach a full curriculum in September after mass redundancies.

In his capacity as MP for the constituency in Essex, Bill Rammell has called for the Learning and Skills Council to intervene because of concerns about the number of lecturers taking redundancy rather than accepting changes to their contract.

The college is believed to be short of at least 25 lecturers, although the University and College Union claims more than 100 teaching staff are set to quit by today's deadline.

According to the union, entire curriculum areas such as maths, electrical engineering and media studies will be deserted. The union is also contacting all its members to ask them to boycott the college, making it harder for it to fill vacancies by September.

Mr Rammell, who will be defending a majority of just 97 at the next election, said he wanted the regional LSC to make sure the college would be capable of teaching the full curriculum in September.

"I have written to the LSC, as a constituency MP, to ask them to intervene and reassure themselves as to the college's strategy, its handling of the current situation, and its ability to deliver a full curriculum for students in September," he said.

"Throughout this dispute, I have made clear that my main concern is the damage that is being done to the education of our students and the reputation of the college as well as the morale of staff on both sides of the dispute."

The regional LSC has confirmed it will be launching a review of the provision at Harlow to ensure that the curriculum offered in September reflects what it has planned and commissioned.

Caroline Neville, regional director of the LSC, said: "We need to ensure the college will be able to provide education and training which meets the needs of learners and employers in the community."

Lecturers have been in dispute with the college since Colin Hindmarch, the principal, announced a new teaching and learning strategy which would increase their working hours, cut holidays and introduce a new, lower grade of lecturer.

Adam Amor, UCU branch secretary, said: "We're told that at a management meeting, they said the teaching and learning strategy is out the window now and it's just firefighting."

Mr Hindmarch was unavailable for comment, but the college said the changes are intended to improve the 36 per cent of courses that are graded below the national average.

It said that almost 80 per cent of lecturers would receive higher salaries as a result of the changes, and that both the LSC and Ofsted support their strategy.

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