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Power vacuum at the top

The AoC lacks a leader as its annual conference looms and a visionary group is formed to shape the future of colleges

THE ASSOCIATION of Colleges has drawn a blank in its search for a new chief executive.

The organisation will now be forced to hold its annual conference without a permanent replacement for John Brennan, who has stepped down. Despite a selection process that began in July, the AoC says it has been forced to "defer" the succession and aims to resume the search after the conference next month in Birmingham.

Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive, will continue as caretaker but is understood not to be a candidate for the post.

The recruitment process will be re-started but it is known that a number of high-profile names from the world of FE were considered but were unwilling to take the job.

Those who were approached are believed to include Geoff Hall, principal of New College Nottingham, and Steven Broomhead, Northwest Regional Development Agency chief executive.

Mr Hall was finance director of the Further Education Funding Council, which preceded the Learning and Skills Council as the main source of cash for colleges.

Another name on the AoC's list was Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership. It is also believed the organisation was interested in at least one other potential candidate, Ray Dowd, who spent a year as the Learning and Skills Council's Agenda for Change champion and is a former principal of Wirral Metropolitan College.

The setback comes as the AoC prepares for a new era after the recent review of its operations by George Bright, former principal of Wiltshire College, and Helen Gilchrist, former principal of Bury College. They recommended the formation of a Long-Term Strategy Group of AoC principals to create a vision for the future of colleges. The group was due to meet for the first time today.

John Bingham, AoC chairman, said: "We attracted excellent applicants for the role but were unable to find the unique candidate that this exceptional post requires.

"This demanding and challenging role always meant that this would be a difficult process. The board are committed to making the right decision for the AoC and its members, ensuring that the right person with the right skills and experience is selected.

"We have unanimously decided to defer appointment. The range and calibre of applicants showed us that the strategic review recommendations including the recommendation of a presidential post had not deterred high- quality candidates from putting themselves forward."

But sources have told FE Focus that at least some candidates had been put off by uncertainty over the future direction of the AoC, with the outcome of the review still to be decided.

Also, some had expressed disquiet about the prospect of sharing power with a president, fearing that this created uncertainty about the nature of the chief executive's job and the extent of their authority if they took the post.

FE Focus can reveal that the Long-Term Strategy Group is being supported by Whitehall insider Conor Ryan, a former political adviser to Tony Blair and David Blunkett during his time as education secretary. Other members of the group include Sue Rimmer of South Thames College, Neil Hopkins of Peter Symonds College in Winchester, and Sara Mogul of West Cheshire College.

It also includes Ioan Morgan, principal of Mid-Warwickshire College and, until recently, chairman of the 157 Group.

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