TWO of the most senior managers at a large West Midlands college have departed ahead of publication of a disastrous inspection report.
The departure from North Birmingham College of the principal, Joan Short, and her deputy, Ian Douglas, reflects the growing trend of principals "quitting" failing colleges in advance of rescue packages being agreed.
Both went on "sick leave" two months ago after a draft Office for Standards in Education report revealed bottom grades for management and a failure of North Birmingham to develop opportunities for the most advanced students. The report was due to be published this week and the two are not expected to return to work.
Principals have departed under similar circumstances from at least six colleges in the past 15 months since the Learning and Skills Council took control of further education funding.
Prior to the start of the new regime last April, ministers made clear that they expected funding chiefs to take a tougher line over failing colleges.
The message was reinforced by Education Secretary Estelle Morris when she said - following the announcement of new cash in Chancellor Gordon Brown's three-year spending review last month - that under-achieving colleges would be set tough new targets in exchange for cash to improve.
David Cragg, executive director of Birmingham and Solihull LSC, said the council had to move swiftly and yet undertake a well-thought-out review of the college's future once the full extent of the problems were understood.
Eddie MacIntyre, principal of Birmingham College of Food, was appointed interim principal. Terry Melia, former chief inspector for FE, was appointed to head an independent inquiry which included Tim Brighouse, former director of education for Birmingham.
They concluded that the best way forward was to merge the college with neighbouring Sutton Coldfield, farming out some specialist work to other colleges. Social care studies will be taken over by Josiah Mason College.
Mr Cragg told FE Focus this was a model consultation that benefited from being kept wholly under local control. "This was a genuinely independent and joint decision, not one imposed by the LSC.
"The most important thing was that staff were not left hanging in the air throughout August - the worst time for this sort of change to take place. We have been able to guarantee that there are no cuts in provision and there will be no redundancies for at least two years."
Judith Elkin, chair of governors at North Birmingham, said: "The inquiry concluded that, while the college was financially very healthy, it was no longer viable as an independent institution and merger with Sutton Coldfield was the preferred option."
Dr Melia's report highlights the need for all areas to look more closely at problems arising from unnecessary overlap and wasteful competition among the various colleges and learning providers.
Professor Elkin said she was not in a position to comment on the future of Ms Short or her deputy, neither of whom was available for comment.