FE ombudsman plan dismissed

December 11, 1998

The government has rejected calls by an all-party committee of MPs for a further education ombudsman, Phil Baty writes.

The House of Commons' Select Committee for Education said in its report on further education earlier this year that students and whistleblowers should be able to turn to an ombudsman if they feel their grievances are not being addressed. An ombudsman, the committee said, "would do much to restore confidence in college governance among staff".

But in its response to the report published this week, the government said there is no "strong case for establishing an ombudsman". It argued that the ombudsman for local authorities, used as a model by the committee, never had powers to investigate complaints, management or discipline. It said the Further Education Funding Council could oversee institutions' complaints procedures.

With regard to whistleblowers, legal protection afforded under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 renders an ombudsman unnecessary, the government said.

But the government did indicate its willingness to discuss an enhanced interventionist role for the FEFC - a move strongly resisted by college leaders and the Association of Colleges.

The select committee called for a "clarification and strengthening" of the FEFC's duty to intervene in college management in cases of maladministration and financial mismanagement.

"The government attaches very great importance to ensuring the highest standards of accountability and probity," the government's response said. "It is concerned that the FEFC should be enabled to intervene effectively when danger signals appearI The government will keep under review the possibility that more may need to be done in respect of the FEFC's ability to intervene."

The government also rejected proposals to make college governing body meetings open to the public as normal practice, because of the business and personnel matters often discussed.

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