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When walking away is par for the course

Politics, politics, politics. If schools think they are having a hard time dealing with Curriculum for Excellence and new National courses while budgets are being cut around them, it's nothing to what the college sector is facing. All over the country, further education is in turmoil with mergers and disputes left, right and centre.

Ever since Russel Griggs published his FE review in 2011, recommending that all the Scottish colleges which had been run like separate companies since 1993 be brought back into a national framework, things have been in a state of flux.

Regionalisation is what it's all about. Instead of having 41 colleges competing with each other, the idea is to have just 13 large college regions across the country, some with up to three or four campuses, each catering for the specific needs of the young and unemployed in their locality. Total mergers were the favoured choice of government; regional federations a second option.

It was never going to be easy. In Edinburgh, the merger of three colleges - Telford, Stevenson, and Jewel and Esk - is progressing steadily, although it has had its difficulties (pages 12-15). But in Lanarkshire, the merger of Motherwell, Cumbernauld and Coatbridge is unravelling, with this week's departure of Coatbridge from the talks (page 8).

Walking away seems to be par for the course. Telford abandoned the Edinburgh negotiations for a while, but is now back in. Stow walked away from the City of Glasgow College, and is now looking at merger with John Wheatley and North Glasgow. Coatbridge says it will remain in a looser four-way federation with Motherwell, Cumbernauld and South Lanarkshire, but Motherwell and Cumbernauld say the door is open for it to walk back in.

This week's News Focus on Edinburgh College is a portrait of a merger in process, with management change in place, curriculum change under discussion and pay talks in dispute. But listen to what the senior managers and lecturer and student representatives have to say and there are vital lessons to be learned by those still to follow in their footsteps.

Hire a good project manager and appoint your principal as soon as possible, they urge; establish the brand early; get a recognition agreement; start working on the culture; embrace it; talk to staff - they hold the answers; and listen to the students - their information is gold dust.

Meanwhile, lecturers at Reid Kerr College in Paisley have been striking over a salary dispute in the merger with Clydebank and James Watt colleges in Renfrewshire. Clydebank settled for a 1 per cent rise while Reid Kerr had no pay offer at all.

"One structure for one future" is what the regional lead for Edinburgh calls for - faltering steps towards a national pay bargaining process.

Gillian, Macdonald, Editor, gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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