Ministers have "strongly censured" the principal and governors of Tameside College for "wilfully" breaking the rules of governance when they removed the college clerk and chair of governors from office.
Ivan Lewis, the parliamentary undersecretary of state for education and skills, has confirmed that an investigation has found that Tameside principal John Carroll and his governing body, representing the corporation as a whole, conducted business "in a manner not in accordance with its instrument and articles of government". The breaches of its legal obligations, Mr Lewis confirmed, were made "wilfully and against legal advice".
Mr Lewis said in a statement to Parliament that he had written to the chair of the corporation "strongly censuring" its activities, which were "in breach of corporate governance, and requiring the corporation to conduct its future business in strict accordance with its instrument and articles of government".
The Greater Manchester Learning and Skills Council has been asked to appoint an independent governor to ensure that the Ashton-under-Lyme college adheres to the rules.
The investigation centred on the abrupt removal from office of college clerk Evelyn Nichols and chair of governors Phil Wright, who was subject to a no-confidence vote from fellow governors. Sources at the college suggested that there were "personality clashes" between the two and the incoming principal, Mr Carroll.
The investigation found that procedures were breached before and during the meeting to remove the pair. There was "insufficient written notice" of the meeting and "the appropriate special committee's process was not carried out in removing the clerk", Mr Lewis said.
He said that contrary to rules of governance, "the principal remained at, and actively participated in, the meeting removing the clerk", and "again contrary to rules of governance, the staff member of the corporation was excluded from participation in the motion of no confidence in the then chair of the corporation".
This week, staff governor Kevin Duffy declined to comment, and Ms Nichols and Mr Wright were unavailable for comment. A spokeswoman for the college said: "The chair of the corporation is writing to the ministers to seek clarification of a number of the points raised."