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There will be no rush to find a replacement

Every service created by the Association of Colleges under its former chief executive Roger Ward will be subjected to the most detailed scrutiny, Jim Scrimshaw, chairman of the board, has pledged.

He was particularly eager in an interview with The TES to stress this in relation to the staff agency Education Lecturing Services, which has drawn the wrath of many senior managers, critical of Roger Ward's close links with it.

"The review will look again at the criteria issued. It is our intention to publish revised criteria when they are done," Jim Scrimshaw said.

But those who want it done in haste will be disappointed. Similarly, those who want a shining new squeaky-clean chief executive in place overnight will be dissatisfied.

Jim Scrimshaw will not be pushed. "A replacement for Roger Ward will be part of the review and could take some months. We have every confidence in Sue Dutton (acting chief executive) and her team to carry on. The next board meeting of the AOC will decide procedures to replace him and we will probably advertise," he says.

The review, he argues, is about the way the board conducts its business. "I consider that as a part of the new chair's job." Purchasing procedures, agencies and the whole range of services provided to the sector through the association would be scrutinised.

He insists that the time for review is ripe anyway, regardless of the Ward departure. And, before people attack the dominance of ELS in the part-time lecturer market, he believes they should think again.

Four large agencies, including Nord Anglia, the largest private provider of services to state education, came forward to say they were snubbed by Roger Ward and the association when attempting to break into the market.

"At the time, we thought the criteria were adequate. We are not saying that by reviewing them we will automatically change them. We have to measure the past against the imperatives that existed." Jim Scrimshaw gave assurances that the AOC was talking to lawyers over the review and changes which might be required.

But he also urges caution against rewriting history. "Many principals I have spoken to said they sought bids from other providers. In many cases they chose ELS, but not in all. It was not a closed market then and it is not a closed market now," he says.

"And people should remember that it was the board's and the Government's job to find flexible and fair employment conditions for colleges." Although he was not on the board at the time when the criteria were drafted, he is convinced that they were fair.

He hopes next week's AOC meeting in Birmingham will concentrate on the way forward. "I want to see an increased role of industry in FE and for issues such as franchising of courses to be properly handled through increased local collaboration."

College collaboration, the central role of colleges in the Government's Regional Development Agencies, the influence of the sector in reshaping 16 to 19 qualifications - these are the sort of issues he wants back on the AOC agenda.

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