Spare good governors

January 29, 1999

Members of college governing bodies are rightly exhorted to recognise boundaries between governance and management and not to interfere in tasks allocated to the college principal. It is hard, in a case where there are no suspicions of impropriety and where the principal is a recognised leader in her field, to suggest that the secretary of state may remove governors because, as at Wirral Metropolitan College ("Principal defends threatened governors", THES, January 15), the college is in financial trouble. The governors are not responsible for the likely reasons for the difficulties.

It appears that the problems at Wirral date from before independence and from the flawed legislation under which further education colleges were separated from their local education authorities. Many LEAs did not fund further education to the full extent permitted. Colleges struggled to keep within the meagre resources allocated to them. If they failed, the deficits from three years had to be repaid to the LEA.

Governors are not paid and devote many hours to their colleges. If the secretary of state were to act as is predicted in the Wirral case, it would dissuade qualified people from coming forward and, in troubled colleges, encourage governors to seize the helm to avoid public humiliation.

The powers of the secretary of state need to be there, but he should not use them where there is no evidence of a failure of governance.

Tim Costello Eversheds Nottingham

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