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Struggle to hold on to board;FE Focus

WIRRAL Metropolitan College was today presenting its recovery plan to the Further Education Funding Council in the hope of preventing the dismissal of its board of governors.

The council demanded the rescue plan after a series of financial problems including a deficit of nearly pound;9 million three years ago, and concerns about the management and governance of the college. As The TES reported on January 1, Wirral could be the first victim of the Government's new "get tough" approach to underperforming colleges. If the council is not satisfied with the plan, Education Secretary David Blunkett may invoke section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act and remove the governors.

Principal Jenny Shackleton has said she will leave her post by July. This week she agreed that mistakes had been made but was confident the college could still succeed.

Ms Shackleton said: "There may be areas where the funding council believes we have been blind or inadequate. We are hoping to come to a positive conclusion and we continue to offer the council all the flexibility we have previously offered."

She said the college had asked the funding council if it felt the college should strengthen its management or governing body.

She added: "We have had various forms of expert advice and we are putting in our best views and plans. But is there anything else that the funding council believes we may have overlooked?

"We have said that where we felt the governing body might be improved by additional members we would be happy to accept names."

She said the board comprised a good number of highly-respectable senior local citizens whose only interest was the welfare of the college. They all wanted to stay on because they felt it was in the college's best interests.

"If any rational process proved they were not the best governing body they would give up voluntarily, they are rational people."

Ms Shackleton said staying-on rates for the college reflected the average for the sector. Achievement levels were below the average for a general FE college, but when compared with urban colleges similar to them, they were average.

The college's overdraft was pound;1.6m and had been reduced after steady repayments over the past 18 months. They were still on target for the phased financial recovery agreed in August 1997.

She added: "The council wants to see robustness in our financial recommendations and confidence in our governance and management. We are trying to make sure we have covered everything we can think of, and I hope we are there."

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