Bullying claims may lead to dismissal

November 1, 1996

Governors at a further education college hit by allegations of bullying have taken the first steps towards instituting dismissal proceedings.

The corporation of Stoke on Trent College has set up a special committee required "in the circumstances where it may be appropriate to dismiss or take similar action against a senior postholder".

A college spokeswoman said: "Regrettably the corporation has taken the view that such circumstances do exist and that action, including dismissal, must be considered." She said the actions being considered concerned more than one person.

The principal, Neil Preston, has been on sick leave since September 25 and is expected to remain off until November 3. Bob Powell, deputy chief executive, was appointed acting chief executive in his place on October 14. Helen Chandler, a senior manager, has also been on long-term sick leave since September 24.

Problems at the college came to light after publication of a survey by lecturers' union Natfhe, which made allegations of bullying, low morale among staff and stress. This led to the college corporation setting up a working group inquiry into governance and management at the college.

A new chairman, Kevin Farrell, has been appointed. He replaced George Mardle whose cooption to the corporation was not renewed. Corporation members said he had failed to act forcefully over staff complaints of low morale and intimidation. Mr Mardle denied this and said he had been ousted by a small group of governors.

Ms Chandler joined the college in June 1994 from Amersham and Wycombe College, Buckinghamshire, where Mr Preston was formerly principal. Since his arrival in May 1993 Stoke on Trent has become one of the fastest growing colleges in the sector with about 49,000 students on its rolls.

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