THE Association of Principals of Colleges has voted to merge with the Association of Colleges, claiming the new arrangement will create "a single voice" for the sector.
But the Association of College Managers, which has 115 principals among its membership, said it was "surprised and puzzled" by the merger and ACM general secretary John Mowbray said he was unsure why it had taken place. He said: "We feel strongly that any national development should add to the credibility of the sector and demonstrate a growing unity of purpose."
The merger vote - the first in the sector since the AoC itself was formed by the amalgamation of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, Colleges Employers Forum and Association for Colleges in 1996 - was overwhelmingly in favour, with 164 in favour and 17 against. But the turnout, just 60 per cent of the APC's membership voted, was much less convincing.
The merger will see the creation of a new body, provisionally named the Principals' Council, to "double as APC Council", and the new National Policy Forum will represent a significant APC power bases within th AoC.
The forum - an internal committee charged with recommending to the AoC board "measures likely to exercise a national influence" - has six chairs of governors and six college principals, three nominated by the AoC and three by the APC, in consultation.
John Mowbray expressed concern over this scheme, saying he was "not confident that non-APC principals will be happy to leave that function to a group that only APC, and APC approved, principals have access to."
The professional support services provided to APC members by the National Association of Head Teachers will continue, but on a separate basis from the AoC finances, thereby avoiding the possibility of union subscriptions being paid out of the public purse.
Joe West, APC president and principal of St Helen's College, said the new body would provide a more unified approach to funding bodies, government and the learning and skills councils. He added: "The outcome is a stronger voice for colleges."
An AoC spokeswoman said the majority of its board were ACM members and 99 per cent of colleges AoC members.