THE former principal of Bilston Community College has broken his silence to defend the regime at the West Midlands college which collapsed earlier this year with debts of more than pound;10 million.
Keith Wymer says that Bilston - which was forced to close in April after the worst inspection report in FE history - should be remembered as a pioneer of the kind of social inclusion policies the Government is now pursuing.
He said: "I think it will become increasingly clear that the sort of thing Bilston was doing was the only way of involving those people and they won't respond if you expect them to behave in middle-class ways and come along to posh college buildings."
Mr Wymer told Radio 4's File on Four programme, to be broadcast on Tuesday:
"All the work that was done ... to create access in the community for a large numbers of students (who) wouldn't have any opportunities ... has been swept aside."
An inquiry team appointed by the Further Education Funding Council found that Bilston's finances were in "a parlous state". Its assets and students are being transferred to neighbouring Wulfrun College which will reopen under a new name next year.
Mr Wymer adds: "I'm not saying Bilston didn't make any mistakes but the objective of creating education in the community where people feel confident and comfortable was the only way of including everybody. Opposition to Bilston is opposition from people who don't believe in an open access policy."
"The fundamental mistake I made is that it was becoming clear in 1997 that the FEFC was not prepared to continue to fund the sort of community education that Bilston had developed and there was no way of persuading them to do that. I think it would have been sensible to call it a day then."