Post-16 - The future's not bright, say staff at merging colleges

16th August 2013 at 01:00
Survey reveals low morale and widespread distrust in leaders

As the government's wholesale reorganisation of Scottish colleges continues to gather speed, new concerns have come to light about the impact of mergers on staff morale.

Less than half of staff at three merging colleges in Glasgow feel optimistic about their future in the new establishment, a survey of the working culture of the institutions has revealed.

The study, completed at John Wheatley, North Glasgow and Stow colleges earlier this year, also found that only 38 per cent of teaching staff at North Glasgow felt their views and opinions were respected within the college, compared with 55 per cent at Stow and 63 per cent at John Wheatley.

Fewer than four in 10 lecturers at Stow said there was "open communication" at the college. Only about half of teaching staff at all three institutions, which will merge on 1 November, said they felt able to express their opinions without fear.

The findings of the study - which was commissioned by the colleges - echo similar concerns at James Watt, Ayr and Kilmarnock colleges. As reported by TESS earlier this year ("Engaging with staff a 'top priority'", 3 May), a survey at those institutions revealed that staff seriously lacked trust in senior management (see panel, right).

The regionalisation of colleges in Scotland has meant that all of them have become involved in a merger process, prompting fears that significant numbers of jobs could be put at risk.

Trust in senior management is a recurring issue. In a survey in the north and east of Glasgow, only 41 per cent of lecturers at Stow, 45 per cent at North Glasgow and 52 per cent at John Wheatley said they trusted the senior staff leading the college. The information about the merger communicated by boards and senior management at the colleges was also criticised by a significant number of staff members, particularly at Stow, where only a quarter said it had been "good".

Teaching staff at North Glasgow and Stow said they perceived their college to be a "stressful" place. At Stow, this was primarily because voluntary redundancies were putting additional pressures on lecturers, the study's authors said.

A spokesman from the EIS union said that the report identified "challenges that colleges across Scotland will face as the regionalisation programme continues".

"The new merged colleges will face clear challenges in overcoming some of the questionable management and employment relations practices of the past, and must commit to working with staff to deliver an improved learning and teaching environment for students and staff," the spokesman added.

However, the study - which was completed in March but the results of which have only just emerged - did reveal some encouraging news for those looking to unite the colleges. Staff at the three institutions characterised their colleges first and foremost as "student-focused" and "outward-looking".

Staff at John Wheatley and North Glasgow also described their institutions as "challenging" and encouraging "high standards", while Stow staff stressed the "enterprising" nature of their institution. The study concluded that the colleges come from "the same cultural 'family' ".

Alan Sherry (pictured, inset), the principal of John Wheatley College who was appointed principal designate of the merged institution in June, told TESS: "Reassuringly, the culture study identified a common set of shared values across the three colleges, with a clear focus on learners and a high-quality learning experience.

"This forms a strong foundation for us to work together to build a new college which staff are proud to work in, learners are keen to attend, stakeholders respect and our communities value."

A spokeswoman for North Glasgow College said that the study was a "very important step in the merger process". "Although (it) did show that some changes are required, it proved that the colleges have a similar ethos and make a good match for the future," she added.

Robert McGrory, chief executive and principal of Stow College, said the study showed that communication could be improved and added that an "action plan" was being implemented.

TRUST ISSUES

Earlier this year, a culture survey of James Watt, Ayr and Kilmarnock colleges revealed a serious lack of trust in senior management at James Watt and Ayr.

Staff questioned said that James Watt College was "challenging" and "badly led", while those at Ayr described their working environment as "stressful".

The three institutions merged earlier this month, and the principal of the resulting Ayrshire College, Heather Dunk, said that engagement with its staff would be "open, honest and transparent".

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