Angst at La Sainte Union

May 2, 1997

THE MANAGEMENT at La Sainte Union College of Higher Education, forced to close by the Teacher Training Agency last week, will talk only of the future. "We don't want to make life even more difficult for ourselves and be accused of sour grapes," said one.

But staff at the leafy Southampton campus are crying foul (see letters, page 13).

TTA accreditation was withdrawn from the institution's teacher training courses last week. Thirty-five jobs in the education faculty will probably go, and the rest of the 315 staff, including the senior management, are still waiting to find out if they have a role in the new college of Southampton University, which will be built on LSU's battered foundations.

La Sainte Union is one of only four independent Catholic colleges in the country. The principal, Anand Chitnis, is chairman of the multi-denominational Council of Church and Associated Colleges.

One LSU management source said: "I think the TTA only play lip service to the idea of diversity. When the Higher Education Funding Council talks of preserving diversity, it understands the potential enrichment it can give the sector. With the TTA you don't get that clarity."

Although the TTA's board of four higher education representatives includes two Church of England college heads, Margaret Smart, director of the Catholic Education Service, dismisses any suggestion of religious prejudice in the TTA as "total rubbish".

A TTA spokesman said such suggestions were "foolish" and pointed out its legal commitment to preserve diversity in the sector. But the power wielded by the agency has provoked fierce criticism.

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said that the TTA's decision set an unhealthy precedent. "In the medicine or engineering professions, the accreditation and judgements are made by academics and peers."

Staff claim that the college was written off a long time ago. Results of the original Ofsted inspection in 1995, critical of the college, were leaked to the press before the inspection was complete.

The college was dismissed as a failure in one national newspaper as part of an article on the TTA's firm stand on bad teaching.

"The rules of confidentiality were breached to our prejudice and our confidence was betrayed," said one member of staff. The TTA has "already firmly rebutted any suggestion" that it was the source of the the leak, said a spokesman.

The bitterness of staff is shared by students. Student union president Jim Gardner said: "The students all feel a grave injustice has taken place. We do feel that the quality of the courses were up to scratch."

John Layman, assistant principal of the college, said that teaching assessments carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England found teaching in all the inspected departments to be satisfactory.

The gloom on the campus is tinged with defiance. As one academic said: "I believe the TTA made a political decision - put one college down and gee up the others. What has gone on has not been fair."

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