End the secrecy over the St Austell scandal;FE Focus;Letter

1st May 1998 at 01:00
I was pleased to see the story of the mismanagement of my brother's disciplinary hearing by St Austell College (FE Focus, TES March 20). Your article gave a balanced appraisal of the case - where my brother was accused of sexually assaulting a colleague - and in particular the need for lessons to be learned from the report which the Department for Education and Employment has yet to publish.

On a personal level my brother, his wife and family have suffered immeasurably through the mismanagement of his case by the principal, Bill Hill, and the governors. It is imperative that lessons are learned by the whole sector. The principal behaved badly while handling the case and in doing so has cost his college dearly and brought it into disrepute locally.

This case throws into question the present powers and responsibilities of governors, who in the present FE sector are not easily held to account. Governors themselves are rendered more vulnerable when they have to rely so heavily on the principal for guidance on allegations of malpractice.

The legislation does not allow the Further Education Funding Council or the DFEE to intervene at an early stage. In my brother's case despite requests following high court action neither the FEFC nor the DFEE were able to intervene until the college's internal procedures had been completed.

It seemed as if governors were being given the opportunity to put right their misdemeanour in later stages of their disciplinary process. While this has some merit it led, in this case, to hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent which, with early intervention, could have been avoided.

Given that this is public money this is not an appropriate framework for the governance and accountability of colleges. The most recent, and perhaps, potentially most sinister aspect of this case is that the DFEE has now had a full report from the FEFC for several months and we are still awaiting its publication. Matthew Taylor, MP for the constituency in which St Austell falls, has repeatedly sought its publication but as yet this has been to no avail.

I made a very straightforward complaint under the legislation that the college principal had acted wrongly in continuing to employ a member of staff whom he knew to have lied about her qualifications.

The woman who made the allegations about my brother was employed for several months after managers were aware that she had acted fraudulently in securing a job at his college. I believe the report produced by Professor Newby fails to recognise the seriousness of this issue and some two years after my original complaint I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

It is essential that David Blunkett, the Secretary of State, ensures that the full report produced by Professor Newby is put within the public domain as soon as possible. He is a cabinet minister in a Government which apparently believes in open government and his own department is seen here to be behaving in a way which is suppressing information.

I trust that your intervention will contribute to a full and early publication of Newby's report.

Peter Tregenna, 176 Marldon Road, Paignton Devon

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