Inspectors won't apologise

31st March 2000 at 01:00
THE Further Education Funding Council has defied its own ombudsman and refused to apologise to Wirral Metropolitan College's former governors for breaching their rights during an inspection, writes Ngaio Crequer.

The ombudsman, John Bevan, in his first substantial inquiry since his appointment, ruled that inspectors had caused maladministration and breached natural justice.

Inspectors had criticised the former governing body but gave governors no chance to answer any of the criticisms. According to Mr Bevan, the inspectorate "fell well short of the duty lying on it". He demanded a written apology.

The governors resigned after the funding council considered asking Education Secretary David Blunkett to use his powers to dismiss them.

But the funding council today rejected the ombudsman's finding. It said it fully complied with procedures and conducted the inspection objectively.

Jim Donaldson, chief inspector, said: "The ombudsman's recommendation implies that former governors and those no longer working for a college should be asked to comment on a draft inspection report. This is impractical. I do not believe it would be n the interests of college students, staff or governors.

"Nor do I think it would be sustainable to vary our practice from inspection to inspection in the way suggested by the ombudsman. The key to making inspection a success for the sector is to be consistent in our approach."

The inspectors praised the commitment of the new members of the board, and the former members of the board took this to be another slight. In its only concession to the ombudsman, the funding council said it was prepared to confirm that there was no evidence of a lack of integrity or commitment by the governors.

Nevertheless, the council said its "carefully considered view" was still that the affairs of the college had been mismanaged and that the former board had "failed to exercise appropriate oversight of the college".

The council is not bound to accept the recommendations of the ombudsman. Since he was appointed in July 1996 he has ruled on only one other complaint before this case. Others have been settled or withdrawn.

The ombudsman did not find maladministration in 10 other complaints made by the former board against the council.

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