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Sanctions threat to college;FE Focus

The Government's get-tough regime has now affected a second institution. Harvey McGavin reports

A second college is threatened with tough sanctions as David Blunkett looks to follow through on his promise to crack down on failure in further education.

Kidderminster College has been given a year to improve standards after inspectors delivered a damning verdict on its work, making it the second institution in a fortnight to test the Government's new "zero tolerance" attitude.

As reported in last week's TES, governors at Wirral Metropolitan College have been told to sort out a rescue package or face the sack.

Inspectors said business, quality assurance and management at Kidderminster were unsatisfactory and awarded governance the lowest grade possible. All will be reinspected within the year. Five other areas of curriculum and cross-college provision were deemed satisfactory.

The Worcesterhire college - which had to have two subject areas reinspected after they failed an inspection in 1995 - must now satisfy the Further Education Funding Council that it can reform its in-house procedures.

The report says that, although governors were committed, governance was "weak" and not inaccordance with the articles and instruments of governance".

The register of interests had not been completed by three board members and was not available at meetings. The finance and audit committees were both found to have acted outside their terms of reference and there were no records of decisions made in relation to senior postholders.

Jock Gallagher, a spokesman for the governors, said that these issues were being addressed and the college management and make up of the board had changed significantly since the inspection. "We are very, very determined to put this college back on the map. The local community has suffered greatly from the shut down of the carpet industry and the college is one of the vital factors in regenerating the area."

Principal Anthony Batchelor, who was appointed in February last year, said the college was working hard to rectify the problems which had resulted in the poor inspection report. "It's our college, we think the world of it and we don't want it to be seen in a poor light. We want to do everything we can to improve it."

Ministers will want to see results following David Blunkett's promise in November to be "as tough on failing colleges as we have been on failing schools."

Wirral won a small reprieve this week as the FEFC extended the deadline until January 18.

Its principal Jenny Shackleton, who announced last month that she would be taking early retirement before the summer, said she was sure that the college would overcome its difficulties.

She blamed its financial predicament - with an estimated debt of pound;9.5 million - on the sudden withdrawal of European Social Fund money in 1995 and a dispute with builders which resulted in a seven-figure legal bill "neither of which were our fault."

She said she was confident that the rescue package - thought to include the sale of the Carlett park campus - would be approved.

"The college has taken a long time to turn the corner but it has been trading in surplus for a year and a half now", she said.

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