Is this man the People's saviour?

24th September 2004 at 01:00
People's College Nottingham is reeling from one of the worst Ofsted reports ever, writes Steve Hook. Can former AoC chief David Gibson turn it around?

As David Gibson settles into the chair in his new post as a principal, he knows his every move will be watched with fascination by his former colleagues in further education.

After several years as chief executive of the Association of Colleges, frequently telling ministers to put more trust in principals, he has been entrusted by the Learning and Skills Council to rescue People's College in Nottingham.

It's a return to a previous era, when he was principal of City College Manchester, but this time he is a troubleshooter, and it is certainly not a position for a man looking for a quiet life before retirement.

John Rudd, the previous principal, and Stephen Hyde, the chair of governors, both stepped down after the college was criticised for its unsatisfactory leadership and management in one of the worst Ofsted reports ever published.

Mr Gibson inherits a college that could be dissolved as the Learning and Skills Council carries out its review of further education in the city.

Speaking eight days into the job, he is guarded about what the future holds.

However, he is determined to fight the college's corner. "I think there are clearly some challenges, and everybody here knows that," he said.

"But I think part of my job, and part of any principal's job, is to make sure the college's views are fully represented in what is happening in the strategic area review and elsewhere.

"We have a robust post-inspection plan, in my view, and there is a will to carry it out.

"What we don't have here is a case of people saying 'we've been badly treated', but a determination to put things right."

The college is an important part of Nottingham's industrial working-class history and Mr Gibson says there is evidence that its reputation has not been mortally wounded by the censure from Ofsted, the local learning and skills council and subsequent adverse publicity.

"People assumed that there would be a great fall in the number of students," said Mr Gibson. "In fact, our recruitment is only slightly down on where it was last year.

"The local press has covered the Ofsted report. As I understand it, the media interviewed students outside the college and the students were very supportive. They said they knew what Ofsted had said, but still felt they had had good support from their college and their tutors in particular.

"People's College has been around for 150 years. It was created for the sons and daughters of toil and has always had a strong culture of widening participation. We're going to build on that.

"I think we have got some work to do in the college to make sure there is compliance with the college's policies. It is no good having any college policies unless they are imposed consistently throughout the whole institution.

"Data collection and the need to have timely information is one of the issues, especially if you want to have an effective relationship with the Learning and Skills Council.

"There's an expression that 'if you can't measure it, you can't manage it', which certainly applies to further education, as we all know all too well.

"I think there will be some structural reorganisation which will ensure change takes place."

Mr Gibson's language is careful, but he acknowledges the possibility that some college managers may have to be replaced. "Yes," he said: "I think that has to be looked at, and I am looking at it.

"But I am not going to go away and hide in a dark room. I will meet the people affected and talk it through with them."

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