Union strike threat over new dismissals

A bitter dispute over the sacking of lecturers at a Midlands college looks set to worsen.

The University and College Union (UCU) balloted members at Halesowen College, near Birmingham, on strike action on Friday over the dismissal of three lecturers — all active UCU members.

The union had already staged one protest when just before Christmas maths teacher and the union’s branch secretary David Muritu was “unfairly” dismissed from his job.

Union bosses said Mr Muritu was told he was sacked due to students’ results, but they say they are above the national average and the college was to blame for any poor results.

Nick Varney of UCU said: “This is the first time in all my years’ experience where a disciplinary procedure has been used to dismiss people over national benchmarking.”

He said all four teachers had good records and it was the college’s failings such as refusal to pay for specialist cover for long-term sickness and lecturers expected to teach two different classes in two different rooms at the same time, that were instead to blame.

He added that groups of students were being pushed together even though they are supposed to be studying different material, non-specialist staff regularly covered maths sessions and there was failure to provide teaching for students in the run-up to exams.

“Selective use of information” is what allowed Halesown to get rid of the staff, according to the union.

Mr Varney added: “There is now a question over whether teachers in FE colleges can be dismissed purely on students’ attainment making it a national issue.”

Halesowen College denied it acted improperly and said action to address concerns about performance was not “undertaken lightly”.

Principal Keith Bate said it would not be appropriate to comment on the details of the situation but that they “completely refuted” “allegations of improper conduct being made against the college which appear to be associated with this situation”.

“The college will not condone consistent failure to deliver expected standards of performance including the need to be accountable for outcomes in accordance with established values and codes of conduct,” he said.

“Where there are any exceptions to a picture of strong performance being maintained across the college, it is vital that action plans are put in place with additional support and resources in order to prepare students to achieve expected levels of attainment.

“I wish to make clear to all staff that action to address concerns about performance and attainment is not undertaken lightly.  In any such case, the college is committed to a
detailed investigation of the position including reference to performance data and individual meetings with the staff involved and managers who have worked with the relevant team; that is the approach that was taken in this case.”