Rebuked whistleblower quits

July 24, 1998

A whistleblower who uncovered irregular student record-keeping at South Thames College has resigned after being reprimanded for appealing to the college's external awarding body.

Karen O'Shea, a lecturer and trainee internal verifier for the National Vocational Qualification certificate, believes she is a victim of constructive dismissal and hopes to turn to industrial tribunal.

She approached the college's external examiner, City and Guilds, earlier this year with allegations that the college was falsifying records of student assessments for NVQ certificates in hairdressing to, in her view, maximise funding from the Further Education Funding Council.

In April this year an internal report by the college, initiated after an approach by City and Guilds, accepted that "it appears that there were some irregularities in the selection and completion of assessment forms prior to September 1997, which resulted in some inappropriate documentation being placed in student portfolios".

Although the college's quality and assessment manager, Catherine Sacre, dismissed any suggestion of fraud, and City and Guilds endorsed this verdict, her internal report made 13 recommendations for action to improve the system. City and Guilds, which did not itself investigate the allegations, said six needed immediate attention.

In a letter in April this year from human resources head Heather Barton, the college acknowledged some of Ms O'Shea's points were "valid". But Ms Barton said: "I find that it was inappropriate and misguided of you to approach City and Guilds directly on this matter before exhausting internal college procedures."

Ms O'Shea said she made "several attempts to get the managers to do something" and contacted City and Guilds only when complaints to her line managers, who were implicated in the allegations, fell on deaf ears.

College principal Jenny Scribbins said: "Ms O'Shea made a variety of allegations and we investigated thoroughly. We found there were mistakes in the recording process. There was no question of any irregularity in assessing people's competence wrongly. There is no question of impropriety in the sense of passing students who should not have passes. We are acting now on our own recommendations."

Ms Scribbins acknowledged Ms O'Shea had "personal difficulties" with her line managers at the college, but insisted that she resigned of her own accord. "The college has taken no formal action against her," she said.

A spokeswoman for City and Guilds said: "The activities were not fraudulent but we note that the investigation has revealed areas for improvement and development."

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