Editor's Comment

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
So the gloves are off. This week the Learning and Skills Council, in the most visible flexing of its muscles yet, succeeded in seeing off a college principal whom it had criticised for bad management.

Without waiting to see how the People's College in Nottingham proposed to respond to a highly critical inspection report, it turned the screw and put intolerable pressure on the college leaders to quit.

When colleges fail to come up to scratch, the Learning and Skills Council has said it is prepared to step in and enforce radical changes.

It is the LSC which controls the purse strings in further education and which calls the shots. The message is simple and, some would say, reassuring: the country's biggest-spending quango will protect the interests of students and get the best possible value for money.

But the LSC is treading a fine line. In February, an independent inquiry found Nottinghamshire learning and skills council had acted beyond its remit in calling for resignations at a college and in approaching an external manager to take over.

The national LSC said at the time that the actions by Nottinghamshire LSC were taken to protect the interests of learners and of the public purse.

There you have it. The learner comes first. Bryan Sanderson, former LSC chair, made no secret of his business philosophy as it should be applied to the public sector: don't be afraid to get rid of people.

But what about problems in the LSC's own backyard? Its approach to allegations of bullying at the Notts LSC last year was both wretched and laggardly. Only campaigning by FE Focus, and pressure by unions, forced it to act.

And now we have allegations of bullying at Manchester College of Arts and Technology.

The LSC has said that it will investigate specific allegations of possible fraud at Mancat. We wait to see how seriously these will be taken - and whether the outcomes will be made public.

If the LSC wishes to be seen as even-handed, rather than simply tough, then it will take the allegations at Mancat, where morale among some staff is at rock bottom, every bit as seriously as the problems at the People's College.

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