Council should mind the gap

31st October 2003 at 00:00
The lead story ("Principal fights on in war of insults", FE Focus, October 17) and the comment article "Bring on the ombudsman" both point to a gaping credibility gap for the Learning and Skills Council, and a clear need for colleges to have access to a transparent appeals procedure that at least mirrors the onerous process that the LSC expects colleges to go through in dealing with complaints.

Back in February the Network for Black Managers wrote to John Harwood to question the circumstances surrounding Ahmed Choonara's resignation.

To quote our letter, we said: 'If LSC officers have concerns about a college that might warrant a change of leadership, there should be proper professional procedures for these sensitive issues to be discussed and negotiated.

"Notwithstanding the problems South Nottingham College may have been facing, the processes surrounding Ahmed's resignation seem to indicate a lack of sensitivity and appropriate procedures." Subsequent information makes it clear that there was a lack of both in the way Ahmed Choonara was dealt with.

What we meant certainly was not exemplified by an invitation to any principal to "chuck themselves in the river", nor can an investigation by a neighbouring executive director constitute an independent inquiry.

If trust in further education is to mean anything, then there must be clarity, and also a mechanism that facilitates an appeal to an independent, authoritative body that can settle the matter in a reasonable timeframe. We are now 10 months down the line, in the middle of yet another investigation. Hardly satisfactory.

There is, beyond the demand for a clear procedure, a further requirement for even-handed treatment across the 47 learning and skills councils.

We are aware of colleges in serious financial difficulty - more difficulty than South Nottingham was when Ahmed Choonara was forced out - in receipt of extensive financial and other support.

Surely any further enquiry into the procedural rights or wrongs of this case must question why various colleges, some not too distant from South Nottingham, receive copious support, yet in this instance the principal is neither offered such support, and, to compound matters, is subjected to offensive treatment?

It has already been extremely counter-productive that, because a local LSC officer has not used the appropriate procedure as clearly set out in Circular 0206, a respected and long-serving black principal who has genuinely put learners at the centre has been subjected to so much abuse of his professionalism that he felt he had no alternative but to resign.

It would compound the offence if his case was not given the remedial scrutiny it so patently deserves.

Robin Landman

NBM secretary

(on behalf of the NBM executive)

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