Scottish colleges: ‘Governance questions still to be answered’

In 2015, the board of management of Glasgow Clyde College was removed by the Scottish Government following “repeated incidences of failure relating to governance”.

Scottish ministers at that time assured us that important lessons had been learned. Angela Constance, then Cabinet Secretary for Education, commissioned a report that made recommendations to improve governance across the sector.

These recommendations, we were told, would be adopted by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council to ensure early intervention if required, and ongoing good governance in Scotland’s colleges. It remains unclear which, if any, of these recommendations, have been implemented.

Compare that commitment from our recent past with the unfolding situation at South Lanarkshire College (SLC), where staff at the college have raised concerns regarding allegations of misconduct involving some of the previous management team. These staff concerns, in turn, led to a thorough and forensic investigation being commissioned by the recently-appointed college principal in 2020.

READ MORE: MSPs urged to intervene over college ‘misconduct’ report

While this investigation was in the process of being undertaken, two senior managers involved in overseeing that investigation were suspended by the college board of management. The findings of the investigation mentioned have not been made public and staff are deeply concerned by the actions of this college board.

The role of the Scottish Funding Council in this matter remains unclear. Despite having conducted “a governance review” at the college in the summer of 2021 at the instigation of the principal, the report has never been made public. The report also appears not yet to have been progressed by the board.

According to its most recent statement, the Scottish Funding Council appears reluctant to become involved in this crisis, and has chosen to defer responsibility to the SLC and Lanarkshire regional boards.

HeraldScotland: Angela Constance is a former Scottish education secretary.Angela Constance is a former Scottish education secretary.

Staff at SLC have also reacted strongly to the current situation within the college, whereby two senior staff – the clerk to the board, and the principal – have been suspended.

In November, the staff passed a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in the college chair, and more recently – following the board’s decision to suspend the two staff members – voted similarly regarding the entire SLC board.

College staff have also demanded an end to the suspension of the clerk to the board, and the college principal. It is understood that a number of staff complaints against board members, and also regarding college governance, have not been actioned, despite being formally submitted in accordance with college procedures some months ago.

READ MORE: Funding council under pressure as crisis deepens at college in ‘misconduct’ storm

The situation at SLC raises several questions for the Scottish Government:

  • What has been learned from previous instances of poor governance in the further education (FE) sector?
  • Where was the early intervention from the Scottish Funding Council to ensure effective governance and transparency at SLC?
  • What will be the cost to the public purse of the SLC board’s actions?
  • How many law firms are now engaged by the FE sector in the Lanarkshire region, and at what cost?

All of the above are important questions for the system that purports to oversee and ensure that good governance prevails within public bodies in Scotland.

So far, staff at SLC, and no doubt throughout the FE sector, are certain that this system has failed to provide adequate answers.

The author is a Scottish FE lecturer who asked not to be named.

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