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'Robust' principal cleared of all allegations

The principal of Jewel and Esk Valley College has been cleared of a series of allegations made against him in anonymous letters.

Howard McKenzie faced 34 charges of mismanagement after complaints were sent to Andrew Welsh, the convener of the Parliament's audit committee. The chairman's committee of the college's board of management rejected the charges in August as "totally unacceptable and in many instances entirely without foundation".

But another two anonymous letters were then sent to the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, forcing it to seek clarification on 28 of the 34 allegations against Mr McKenzie, whose management style is described as "robust". The board had to re-open the case.

In a statement to The TESS last week, Ian Muir, chairman of the college board, said the funding council is now satisfied with the college's explanations.

Mr Muir was scathing about those making the allegations: "I am surprised and disappointed that staff with concerns did not invoke the college's internal systems or the whistleblowing policy which is in place with the express purpose of protecting the anonymity of staff raising issues of genuine concern."

Mr McKenzie is not the first principal to face anonymous allegations, which some union members claim are the only way to publicise concerns because of the likelihood of reprisals by management. But it is causing growing resentment among principals who say all charges, no matter how trivial, have to be fully investigated both by the college and by the funding council.

One meeting of the Jewel and Esk Valley board took 90 minutes to discuss the allegations against the principal and just half an hour on its strategic plan.

Meanwhile, in a totally unrelated matter, police are said to be seeking Ricky Barr, former bursaries officer at Jewel and Esk Valley College, in connection with a fraud investigation surrounding pound;20,000 in bursary funds which went missing last year.

Mr Barr resigned following a contravention of the college's new ICT policy, introduced by Mr McKenzie. The college stressed that "no current member of staff was involved or was ever suspected of being involved".

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