Foundation warned of ‘jobs for the boys’ perception over lack of advertising for key roles

Bosses of the FE sector’s new self-improvement body, the Education and Training Foundation, have been warned of “sycophantic nepotism” after it emerged that no advertising had taken place for senior roles.

The foundation’s chair and chief executive posts are currently publicly on offer, but interim posts, including director of contracting and procurement, look likely to be filled without having been advertised.

The body, formerly known as the FE Guild, is seen as replacement for the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), from which a number of staff have moved via Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment), or TUPE.

And foundation bosses said they had been seeking the “best possible candidates” for posts having approached sector bodies and recruitment agencies for candidates.

However, FE Week understands that no public advertising for some key posts took place. The situation has drawn warning from FE commentators against appointments without advertising.

Jayne Stigger, head of maths and science at North East Surrey College Of Technology, said: “This is a tactic sometimes used by colleges when they already have a preferred internal candidate and using it doesn’t help change the negative perception of ‘jobs for the boys’ and political appointments, rather than best person for the role. There is a danger of giving the impression of sycophantic nepotism.

“If FE truly is at the heart of the foundation, then as wide a range of candidates as possible should be sought and interviewed.”

Meanwhile, the chair of governors at one college in the north of England, who did not wish to be named, said: “The foundation has a pivotal role ensuring FE has the leadership, governance and workforce fit for the future and any appointments process should be transparent and accountable.

“The sector needs a fresh perspective not more of the same.”

Foundation interim chair Sir Geoff Hall, former principal and chief executive of New College Nottingham and chair of the Information Authority, said: “The foundation board at its meeting on August 1 — the first day of the new organisation — agreed the delivery plan for 2013/14.

“To ensure a good start was made to achieving the plan, and given only a handful of staff TUPE’d across from LSIS, the board accepted the need to fill vacant posts initially through a combination of interim appointees and secondees.

“We therefore approached four interim agencies to help us find suitable candidates who were immediately available.

“We asked them to come back to us with prospective candidates within a week which is a normal timescale when recruiting for interim positions with an immediate start date.

“Because those agencies mainly serve colleges, we also shared the specifications with, for example, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers [AELP] to see if there were available staff.”

Sir Geoff, who was also national director of the Further Education Funding Council/Learning and Skills Council, added: “Our chair and chief executive posts are currently out to advertisement in the usual way.”

FE Week was alerted to foundation roles and the lack of advertising after the AELP encouraged members to apply — but after the closing date.

Their weekly newsletter was sent out on Tuesday, August 13, directing members to a news page on their website containing links to the job pack.

Both job packs were posted on the deadline day of Friday, August 9. The AELP declined to comment, but FE Week understands it received the job pack from the foundation on Thursday, August 8.

Foundation lead for professional learning [a role also not advertised] Sue Dutton, a former deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The foundation will be advertising its fixed term contracts in the second week of September for its establishment posts.

“We will be using a variety of media to ensure the fullest range of coverage and audiences within both the FE sector and in the wider community of education and training.

“We have some immediate staffing needs to cover the interim work of the foundation until the established posts can be recruited and have, therefore, used the services of four recruitment agencies well-known to the sector in order to attract the best possible candidates who are immediately available.

The former interim cheif executive of the now defunct Lifelong Learning UK added: “All candidates for both interim and substantive roles will be subject to a competitive recruitment process.”