Warwickshire College defends ‘disturbing’ and ‘unusual’ interim principal appointment

Warwickshire College has defended its decision to appoint its chair of governors as interim principal after the move was described as “unusual” and “disturbing” by sector figures.

The college has insisted its decision to appoint chair of governors Sue Georgious on an interim basis when principal Mariane Cavalli took a “temporary leave of absence” had followed “due process”.

The college declined to comment further on the reasons for Ms Cavalli’s absence.

However, a spokesperson said: “The board appointed the interim principal following due process and with the appropriate legal advice.

“This appointment is on an interim basis in order to ensure business as usual at the college.”

However, several voices within the sector have criticised the appointment.

Dame Ruth Silver, former chair of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service and now president of the Further Education Trust for Leadership, told FE Week: “This move from chair to chief executive is highly unusual and more than a little disturbing.

“It goes against all the standards we know and which guide us about openness and transparency in public life, especially in the context of the principal being described as on some sort of leave.

“I can think of no circumstance when this would be acceptable — there are agencies with trained and experienced FE colleagues readily available.

“This college is now without a principal and also an experienced chair  — this is no solution more a diminution of the importance of governance in public life. I trust it will be very shortlived.”

Unions have also expressed unease at the appointment of a chair of governors to the role.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe said: “In general ASCL would not recommend that a chair of governors take on the role of acting principal.

“There are many reasons why this is potentially fraught with difficulties.

“The solution is usually, and often more appropriately, to appoint someone to an acting post from amongst the existing leadership team or to find a short-term interim from the bank of recently retired principals.”

The regional official for the University and College Union (UCU), Anne O’Sullivan, said: “We are meeting with the former chair of governors/acting principal and deputy principal this week.

“There is much to discuss, but we will seek to establish what is happening in terms of staffing at the top level of the college.”

The UCU had also called on the college to open its accounts after freedom of information requests revealed Ms Cavalli’s salary had increased by £50,000 in two years, while just under 100 staff at the college were facing redundancy.

The Warwickshire College spokesperson said: “All colleges face financial challenges and Warwickshire College is no different.

“A dual strategy of cost saving and growth over the next three year period has been underway for some time linked with the development of a new five year strategic vision and plan.

“The board are taking a robust and realistic approach to this in the current financial environment in order to strengthen and build a sustainable future for the college going forward.”