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Warning over college post

Extraordinary advice from ACM to members considering applying to lead troubled Epping Forest

Senior managers are being cautioned about applying for the vacant principalship at troubled Epping Forest College in an unprecedented move by the Association of College Managers.

Peter Pendle, the ACM's general secretary, said members considering applying should contact the association for advice, following the sacking of Peter Sadler after just four months as principal.

"This is the first time the association has felt it necessary to take this sort of action," Mr Pendle said.

The caution follows concerns raised by the Principals' Professional Council about the pressures on principals. Last year it dealt with a record number of disputes between senior managers and employers.

Mr Sadler failed in an appeal against dismissal by the governors, who said they had lost confidence in his ability to run the college.

As well as the ongoing dispute over the treatment of the former principal, the college has received a damning Ofsted report and is today due to face a strike by staff protesting against the sacking of their union branch chairman.

Mr Sadler, speaking for the first time since his dismissal, said he had become another victim of the football manager culture, with employers wanting instant results and principals made to pay the price.

The father-of-two, who is now caring for his wife during her battle against cancer, said: "I've just been hearing about Tony Adams, who was sacked by Portsmouth FC. The League Managers Association said you can't sack someone after only three months in the job. I got sacked as principal after four.

"You have to be given a chance to do your job. For a board of governors to be going through its fifth principal in 15 months is ridiculous."

Mr Sadler said the problems at Epping Forest College ran deep. Poor financial management and a move to a Pounds 38 million campus had put pressure on the college, he said.

The college disputed Mr Sadler's account of its financial position, although it was unable to provide figures as FE Focus went to press. Ofsted said its financial management had improved recently.

Minutes of governors' meetings refer to deficits of pound;800,000 in 2005-06, pound;480,000 in 2006-07 and a further deficit in 2007-08 of pound;708,000 before asset disposals.

Exam success rates were judged inadequate by Ofsted: for teenagers on A- level equivalent courses, the rate was more than 10 percentage points below the national average for two years running.

Mr Sadler said the decline of the college had been rapid and largely unrecognised. A 2004 inspection judged the college to be adequate. Even in the spring last year inspectors said the college was making "reasonable progress" in most areas.

A statement by the college said: "Epping Forest College acknowledges that until the beginning of last year we had suffered from a period of historic instability and this is reflected in the Ofsted inspector's report. However, we are already benefiting from our action plan for change that was instigated last year."

It said that the interim principal, Jeannie Wright, had experience in managing colleges in difficulty and governors were taking swift action to address inspectors' concerns.

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