Agency probe looms over troubled college

The Skills Funding Agency is poised to investigate as it awaits the results of a Newham College investigation into claims it awarded qualifications to students who never took courses.

The agency said it “reserved the right” to probe further if it was not satisfied with the college investigation into allegations that passes had been awarded to students who did not attend any lectures, or had attendance rates of 40 per cent or less — which former lecturers allegedly said should be “impossible”.

It is understood the college, which received an Ofsted rating of good in March this year, was investigating the claims, but had not seen the evidence on which a BBC report, in which the claims were made, was based.

An agency spokesperson told FE Week: “The college governing body has informed us of the steps it is taking to investigate these matters. We expect to receive the findings from this investigation shortly.

“We reserve the right to require or carry out further investigation if we are dissatisfied with the robustness of the college’s own investigations.”

Agency funding for most college courses is dependent on the number of students who achieve a pass.

A college spokesperson said: “As a high-performing and well-regarded college, we take any allegation of malpractice very seriously, and we are keen to investigate any issues raised with us.”

The allegations follow the posting of a video on YouTube on November 17, which featured dance and drama head Dr Mark Walcott seeming to make vile claims about gay teachers during a staff meeting early last year.

Principal Denise Brown-Sackey announced she was taking leave having consulted with governors about the video.

It is understood that an eight-month internal investigation had already taken place into Dr Walcott, but no action was taken until the clip went online.

The college confimed he has now been suspended while an “independent” investigation is carried out into his behavior. Nevertheless, the latest allegations have seen the storm surrounding the college continue.

A Newham Council spokesperson said: “In light of the new allegations, it is important that all details are passed to the agency so it can hold a full investigation.

“We are concerned not only that public money is spent appropriately, but also that anyone studying hard knows their efforts are worthwhile and that their qualifications are seen as credible by employers, colleges, universities and by the students themselves.”