Principal's test

The news that John Burt, the principal of Angus College, is to take a grip on weak FE managements as head of a special troubleshooting team at the FE funding council will be welcomed by many (page 3). He is one of our most respected college principals and, by comparison with many of his colleagues, has presided over a regime of industrial calm and financial competence.

The move will inevitably be seen as further confirmation that FE is indeed a sector which, while it may not be in crisis, is still facing serious problems. ten years after it was "set free" from council control, 34 colleges have total deficits of pound;13.8 million.

many of the colleges' problems are endemic, not solely the product of unskilled management. There has always been tension in the FE sector in that colleges are told to act as commercial businesses while continuing to suffer the restrictions that come with reliance on the public purse. This, in turn, has led to the appalling industrial relations track record that disfigures the sector. Mismanagement has not been confined solely to finance.

Mr Burt's skills will therefore be put severely to the test, particularly since some of his colleagues selected to be provided with "support" may not take kindly to another principal telling them they have been making a hash of running their college.

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