Since FE Week successfully fought to reveal the £150,000 expenses by the principal at Highbury College, the sector reaction has been split.

One college principal told me: “The alcohol, lobster, executive transport, any form of first class travel. The list goes on. It’s inexcusable. It needed to be exposed.

“Signed off or not, it’s an inappropriate use of public funds. Particularly when you think the college is in difficulty.”

But they had been told: “Being vocal might be bad for my career.”

Another principal took a very different view and in the FE Week comments section wrote: “Very good journalism, factually accurate after dogged pursuit.”

But, they also said I was wrong in this editorial column to call for the principal to consider resigning as there was “no breach of rules” and “no suggestion of impropriety/malpractice and the college has confirmed it was all properly authorised”.

Highbury College governors did restrict the use of the corporate card and first class travel in May, but there remain other colleges that will, and have, defended a policy permitting the principal to travel first class at full price.

For a highly respected college principal to conclude “no breach of rules” and so defend the use of a college card on a cocktail-fuelled lobster dinner and £434 headphones should
concern everyone.

Why? Because the spending revelations, particularly the lobster, reached well beyond FE Week readership and made most of the national newspaper and has since been followed up by Private Eye.

And if FE Week had not exposed the spending, the national media would have simply lifted it from the Portsmouth News website.

So, if college principals cannot agree amongst themselves what is appropriate behaviour and expenditure, let’s try and agree through self-regulation.

And let’s move quickly, before the new FE college oversight minister, Lord Agnew, rewrites the rules and or Conditions of Funding Agreement between the Secretary of State and
colleges.

College leaders from across England should work together to agree, for example, if full cost first class travel is appropriate and as a minimum whether there should be greater transparency of expenditure.

A code of ethics, or ethics charter, could be drafted and then adopted.

This might include, for example, a commitment to publish the details of certain spending as a matter of course.

The media will always try to expose the inappropriate use of public funds – so let’s work together to agree where the line is drawn.

Principals interested in joining a task and finish group to develop such an ethics code or charter can get in touch with me at nick.linford@lsect.com