Whistleblowers: Ofsted report seals fate of Birmingham college

August 9, 2002

North Birmingham College is to be consigned to the history books after the publication today of a fiercely critical Ofsted inspection report. The college will be merged with neighbouring Sutton Coldfield College following the report, which said "leadership and management of the college was unsatisfactory".

Principal Joan Short and deputy Ian Douglas have been on extended sick leave for several weeks, their futures uncertain almost four years after an investigation by The THES raised questions about Mr Douglas's meteoric rise at the college, and about their treatment of a whistleblower.

The Ofsted report pulls few punches. "Inspectors judged the overall quality of provision to be inadequate because four of the ten curriculum areas, and leadership and management, were unsatisfactory," it says.

Only a third of students achieve the qualification they are seeking. The report says: "Retention and pass rates are low and standards of teaching, learning and attainment are well below the average for general further education colleges."

There were also "inadequate quality-assurance arrangements", "deficiencies" in tutorial provision and "insufficiently qualified teachers in some areas".

The report says that although senior management had been successful in turning around a budget deficit, "it has been slow to address the learning needs of students aged 16 to 18, many of whom make poor progress at the college".

The inspectors judged "curriculum management of full-time courses to be weak in half of the areas inspected. There is a lack of attention to detail in curriculum planningI and during the inspection, the provision of inaccurate timetables led to the delay of some lessons and disruption to the learning of students. There is an over-reliance on part-time teaching staff in many areas."

The report also says that self-assessment reports lacked rigour and that "there is no external validation of the outcomes of the self-assessment process".

A review team set up by the local Learning and Skills Council after the inspectors went into the college in April recommended last month that the college be merged with Sutton Coldfield. This was agreed by governors last week.

The LSC had already decided to stop funding courses in two curriculum areas, saying that the "provision was so poor that it was failing students". Ms Short and Mr Douglas went on sick leave shortly afterwards.

The THES reported in November 1999 that there were concerns about the rapid promotion of Mr Douglas to deputy principal. Mr Douglas joined the college in 1994 as a personnel assistant. He was appointed to the unadvertised post of personnel director and then to another unadvertised post of deputy principal, within two years of joining.

Concerns, focusing on the procedural elements of the appointments rather than his suitability for the job, were raised with the then Department for Education and Employment by lecturer Ian Walker, who said that the college's rules were clear that "a senior post shall be advertised nationally".

Initially the Further Education Funding Council for England said that as Mr Douglas's personnel director's post was not officially a "senior post", it did not have to be advertised. It later admitted it had "misinformed" the DFEE.

The college then argued that there was no official vacancy to advertise as Mr Douglas had filled an existing but dormant position, following an earlier management reshuffle. The DFEE accepted the explanation. Ms Short then said the appointment was made entirely in accordance with the advice of the DFEE and with its formal blessing.

Mr Douglas was promoted to deputy principal without competition a year later, when Ms Short sacked two managers.

Mr Walker, whose identity as the whistleblower had been made known to the college, was one of only two staff selected for redundancy at the time. In March last year the college settled Mr Walker's claim under the law to protect whistleblowers. He was paid an undisclosed sum and agreed to withdraw his complaints of victimisation. The college did not admit liability.

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