The history man of FE

25th December 1998 at 00:00
The Association of Colleges woke up on January 1 with a headache - what to do about Roger Ward. In the Cinderella sector, the Association's smooth-talking, champagne-popping chief executive had made the part of Prince Charming all his own.

But as The TES revealed his true role in an elaborately-plotted behind-the-scenes production, the curtain came down on the longest-running pantomime in the history of FE, and before the month was over Mr Ward walked out with a three-month pay-off.

Over at NATFHE, the Christmas spirit lasted well into the New Year. Paul Mackney, the jolly silver-bearded figure who had taken over the reins in December, was still spreading glad tidings - promising to sort out the union's finances, stop the in-fighting and find a solution to the contracts dispute. He's still working on the last one, but as New Year resolutions go, two out of three ain't bad.

A few weeks of resignations (the AoC board) and publications (The Learning Age - downgraded from White Paper to Green), made for a relatively sleaze-free February. March made up for it with news that a report into the alleged sexual assault of a lecturer by a colleague at St Austell college in Cornwall had been suppressed.

The investigation was botched and the lecturer's life ruined, said the report which surfaced finally in June.

April marked an anniversary - five years since incorporation, and The TES took stock with a special two-part report. But these new-found freedoms had a flipside - something that was demonstrated in the weeks that followed. Cricklade college suspended its principal and finance director as police looked into claims made on the European Social Fund. And the FEFC began investigating Halton college, one of the fastest growing in the sector, for alleged financial misdemeanours. Both matters remain unresolved.

Then in June - a ray of sunshine. The Hodge report, the result of the education and employment select committee's 11-month investigation into the state of the service, gave the sector a huge vote of confidence, calling for a Pounds 500 million cash injection to increase student support, improve buildings and IT, and widen participation.

Money - or lack of it - continued to make the headlines. FEFC funding allocations took the sector a step nearer convergence, college finance directors pleaded poverty, saying they neededPounds 1 billion to stay afloat over the next three years and the Lane report recommended Pounds 400m for student support. These begging letters got a partial reply in July's budget when a #163;255m pay-out was announced by the Chancellor.

NATFHE and the AOC agreed a national framework on pay and conditions to end the five- year stand-off. But it was only a holiday romance - NATFHE members called the whole thing off in October.

The AOC's quest to replace Roger resumed in September when adverts appeared offering their top job with a Pounds 100, 000 pay and pensions package -but no car.

"I think Jaguars are environmentally irresponsible," said AOC chair Jim Scrimshaw, in a reference to the previous incumbent's favoured form of transport.

Meanwhile, colleges continued to get themselves into and out of all sorts of scrapes. The QCA investigated National Vocational Qualifications' irregularities at Grimsby, Newbury rescued its science A-level courses with #163;25,000 from Vodafone and North Derbyshire tertiary were sued in the High Court for #163;3.2 million by a franchised training provider.

At the AOC conference in November, new chief executive David Gibson took a bow, but David Blunkett stole the show. The proposal for all lecturers to undergo formal teacher training was expected but his #163;725m spending award for FE surprised almost everyone. And this month Mr Blunkett found another #163;776m to put another 100,000 students into higher education, half of them at FE colleges.

Christmas had come early . . . but there was a catch. In true Santa Claus style, colleges will only get the money if they are very, very good.

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