THE Government is to back down on its draconian proposals to allow college heads and other senior staff to be sacked on the spot without a hearing.
Officials are using the Learning and Skills Act to overhaul government of all further education and sixth-form colleges.
The Government proposes that principals and senior post-holders can be summarily dismissed - without notice - if the chair, vice-chair, or a majority of governors think this is justified by their conduct. But the proposals have met a barrage of criticism.
The National Association of Head Teachers, the Principals' Professional Council, the Association of Colleges, the lecturers' union, NATFHE, and even the National Union of Students have condemned the moves, due to be put in place next month. Education lawyers have also attacked the proposals as being against the rules of natural justice and unworkable. They have been described as a "knee-jerk" reaction to criticism by MPs on the public accounts committee of a college which suspended a principal and deputy on full pay for a year before they resigned.
Lawyers for the PPC and the NAHT said the proposed articles would be unlawful as they would exceed the powers granted to the Secretary of State under existing legislation. They ad: "...It is very difficult to envisage any circumstances in which a dismissal of a senior postholder for misconduct, without a disciplinary investigation or a hearing, would be fair."
Moreover, the proposals exclude the use of a disciplinary procedure, such as a special committee, to examine the circumstances. According to the lawyers, this gives the college the power to dismiss a senior member of staff "in certain circumstances without any procedural protection at all".
One principal said: "I have worked for three chairmen and two of them have been as mad as hatters. If they had had this kind of power I would not be around now."
David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "I think they have made these proposals because they have been scared off by the PAC which thinks colleges cannot get their houses in order. This is about politics and not natural justice.
"It is still unclear whether a small minority of cases could ever justify bypassing a proper procedure."
The breadth of the opposition to the proposed changes has surprised ministers, who will now make hurried amendments. They are likely to still want the power of dismissal without notice, but they accept the need for a disciplinary procedure and right of appeal.