During a hot-topic panel session at the Association of Colleges conference, several new college governors asked about how to avoid “serial offender” college principals.

Nazir Afzal OBE became chair of Hopwood Hall College on September 1, 2018, after stepping down as pro-chancellor at Brunel University the previous month, before which he was chief crown prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Afzal, addressing new West London College principal Karen Redhead on the panel, said: “I heard your story about your college and the failings that the senior team were involved in.

“If they were running a company they would be disqualified.

“If they were running a police force they would never run a police force ever again.

“Is there any mechanism to ensure those individuals are held accountable for what you have to deal with?”

Richard Atkins, the FE commissioner, responded that he was “really pleased that the question came from a chair because chairs are a really crucial part of the accountability structure”.

This sector has always had a very small number of serial offenders who have driven one college into the ground and then got a job somewhere else and done the same thing, he said.

“At the moment, I have powers of intervention and beyond that everything is essentially kind of persuasion and so on. People do move on.” He added that he thinks it is right that we have a free press “and that the press report on these situations because how else are people going to know not to employ them?”

“If we intervene and publish that means my team thinks something very serious went wrong, probably involving a number of people, and I think that should be put in the public domain. I don’t think that should be swept under the carpet and if you put that in the public domain then we have a free press that does that.”

He said that “personally I don’t comment individually on cases, people will know that, the press who are in the room know that, but I think that when we publish intervention reports in that way when things have gone seriously wrong, one of the reasons for doing that is to disclose serial offenders and make them known to the sector.”

Picture: From left: FE Commissioner Richard Atkins, EHWLC new principal Karen Redhead, Association of Colleges boss David Hughes, Ofsted deputy director for FE Paul Joyce, and the ESFA’s director for FE Peter Mucklow

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  1. Should have had a thermal scanner in the conference room – bet a fair few in the audience were squirming…

    Time will tell whether this is just lip service or a the beginnings of proper accountability. It’s not just bad apple leaders at providers that need sorting out, there are quite a few policy shortcomings that incentivise behaviour.