Weston College has U-turned on introducing a paid role of “president” that was promised to England’s highest-paid principal, Sir Paul Phillips, after he retired.
The college has also parted ways with Phillips’ son, Joe, just months after his recent controversial promotion from finance director to chief operating officer.
Joe Phillips joins two deputy principals who have left the college’s senior leadership team since interim principal Jacqui Ford took the helm in September.
The revelations come as Weston College was downgraded by Ofsted from an ‘outstanding’ rating awarded 10 years ago to ‘good’ this week. Its near-18-month hunt for a new permanent principal is also still ongoing.
Last summer, the college was embroiled in a governance and nepotism row after FE Week revealed its plans for a tailor-made president position for then-principal Sir Paul Phillips (pictured), timed for when he was due to step down at the end of the academic year. The position was said to be “absolutely key” to the college’s governance initiatives as well as “profile bids”.
The recruitment process for Phillips’ successor was thrown into chaos as candidates questioned the remunerated position and the recent promotion of Joe Phillips was put under the spotlight. A union representative said at the time Weston College looked like it was “being run as Sir Paul’s personal fiefdom”.
FE Week can now reveal governors have dropped plans for a president of Weston College and has no plans to fill the role.
The college refused to say why the position was ditched.
Chair of governors Andrew Leighton-Price said: “Sir Paul Phillips retired from his role at Weston College as of August 31, 2023. He has not taken on any other positions within the college group, paid or otherwise. We wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.”
No longer a family affair
Meanwhile, Sir Paul’s son Joe Phillips has stepped down after working at the college for 13 years. He joined the college in 2010 and was promoted last year from vice-principal for finance and business planning to deputy principal and chief operating officer, while his father was still in post.
The college doubled down at the time that there was no conflict of interest and his father had “no influence” on the promotion.
As Ford arrived as acting principal, Joe Phillips became the de-facto second-in-command.
Ofsted’s latest report on Weston noted how there have been “several recent changes at senior leadership level”. The college confirmed Joe Phillips was one of those changes.
Leighton-Price said: “Three of our senior leaders, including two deputy principals and the chief operating officer, have embarked on exciting new journeys outside the college.
“While we deeply appreciate their past contributions, we’re confident in our strong and highly experienced leadership team’s ability to continue to drive the college forward.”
New principal awaiting approval
Weston’s principal role was due to be filled by then-deputy principal of Cornwall College Kate Wills, but her job offer was withdrawn last June for undisclosed reasons. She is now back at Cornwall College in a different deputy principal role.
At Weston College, interim principal Jacqui Ford is set to steer the ship until summer, FE Week understands.
The search for a permanent principal is still ongoing, according to the college.
Sources told FE Week that the college has found a permanent principal but is awaiting approval from the Department for Education, which could be held up following the reclassification requirement for government approval on salaries above £150,000 (see page 5).
Sir Paul Phillips was England’s highest paid principal with a basic salary in 2022 of £258,000, plus pension contributions, consultancy work and benefits in kind taking his total pay package to £362,000.
Leighton-Price said: “Collaborating closely with the DfE and FE Commissioner, the college governors are actively engaged in the process of appointing a new principal and chief executive.”
‘Good’ for governance
Ofsted inspectors noted during their December 2023 inspection that the governance of the quality of education at Weston College is “mostly effective”.
The report published this week said the governors appropriately challenge leaders on education but “do not always challenge leaders enough on the timeliness and impact of the remedial actions taken,” leading to slow improvements on the weakest programmes.
However, inspectors also praised governors and leaders for listening and taking timely actions on the feedback from staff at all levels in the college.
“For example, leaders have recently appointed well-being champions to help staff manage their workload. As a result, staff feel valued and well supported by leaders and managers.”
Leighton-Price said: “Weston College is immensely proud of its ‘good’ Ofsted rating, achieved across all eight areas, alongside a ‘strong’ outcome for meeting regional skills needs.”