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Wilmorton case set to spark reforms

Government advisers are expected to announce plans for a fundamental reform of college governing bodies next year to prevent abuse and mismanagement by small unrepresentative groups.

The Further Education Funding Council is likely to call for the post of clerk or secretary to the board to be a top-level appointment, with the legal authority to prevent questionable management decisions from being put into effect.

The move follows the publication of a damning FEFC report last month which criticised irregularities at Derby Wilmorton College and called for the college's entire governing body to be dismissed. The college principal, Andrew Stromberg, who resigned shortly after the inquiry was set up, was singled out for particular criticism.

Legal evidence to the Colleges' Employers' Forum due to be published in the new year, but leaked to The TES this week, is highly critical of the official report by Professor Michael Shattock of Warwick University.

Solicitors were called on to draft advice to employers' forum members in the light of the Shattock report. But John Hall, head of education law at Eversheds, said: "Much of Professor Shattock's legal analysis is flawed. " The report "lacks the measured tone and objectivity which I would expect from a person acting in a quasi-judicial capacity."

Mr Hall criticised the pace, style and language as "belonging more to a Frederick Forsyth novel". He was also concerned about the extent to which evidence was gathered "under the cloak of anonymity," he said. "There is more than a whiff of the Court of Star Chamber in the air."

Mr Hall, while not excusing the actions at Wilmorton, argued that advice on effective governance was given far too late.

The Government-commissioned handbook, Getting Your Colleges Ready, "conspicuously ignored the issue of governance" and the FEFC guide to governors was not published until 18 months after incorporation," he said.

"There appears to have been a serious failure which goes well beyond the boundaries of Wilmorton - a failure by those charged with the establishment of the new sector to attach priority to governance training which the Government's 1992 reforms required."

Nevertheless, the employers say they would welcome any moves to secure the legal status of individuals in the corporations.

A survey of by the employers' forum of salaries of clerks to the board showed that they range from Pounds 14,000 to Pounds 40,000, reflecting the differing statuses the colleges give them. If reforms are approved by the FEFC, the clerk would join those top staff whose pay and conditions are determined by the board of remunerations committee. This deals with all top-rank posts: principal, deputy and (in larger colleges) the finance and personnel directors.

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