Nottingham College staff call for their CEO and chair to resign

Staff at a college embroiled in a bitter contracts row have delivered a vote of no confidence in their chief executive and chair of governors.

At a meeting last night, around 110 members of the University and College Union unanimously backed the motion which said the “continued mismanagement” by Nottingham College’s top leaders has “caused extreme harm and distress to staff and students”.

It came just hours after the college’s chief executive, John van de Laarschot (pictured above right), said news of another 14 days of strikes planned for November was “extremely disappointing” and warned it would “serve only to increase the detrimental impact on our students”.

He added: “We are committed to ongoing dialogue and action to resolve the situation but we need our striking teachers to return to work.”

Staff at Nottingham College, whose chair of governors is Carole Thorogood (pictured above left), will have already walked out for 15 days in September and October by the end of this week.

UCU members at the college say they have been forced out on strike because of the college’s attempts to impose “inferior” contracts that will cut holiday entitlement and see some staff take a pay cut.

Andrew Harden, UCU’s head of further education, said: “This unanimous motion of no confidence shows the strength of feeling amongst our members that the management’s position is becoming increasing untenable.

“Industrial action is always a last resort for members but the college’s refusal to negotiate in good faith has left staff with no alternative but to announce further action.”

He added: “The ball now firmly in the college’s court. They know what is required to resolve the dispute and there is no good reason for the college not to reach an agreement and let staff get back to work.”

A Nottingham College spokesperson said: “We’ve made a series of significant concessions specifically to address concerns relating to trust, pay and workload. We have not reneged on any commitments made – we have conceded and improved the offer on all points of issue and were hopeful that this would succeed in ending strike action.

“A number of options are now on the table for both UCU and the college and we are currently reviewing our position and looking at these options, as well as any possible alternative solutions.

“Our priority is our students and ensuring they suffer no further detriment to their studies. We are keen to get back round the table as soon as possible.”

The 110 UCU members represents 20 per cent of Nottingham College’s current full-time and “sessional” teaching staff, which currently sits at around 550.

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  1. Richard Banks

    The so-called votes of no confidence to which the UCU is so attached are little more than bullying. They have no legal basis, and smack very much of nasty behaviour in the schoolyard. It’s time the sector’s unions both grew up and woke up. Change has got to happen, like it or not, if the sector is to have a future.

    • Iron pyrites

      Why is it a so called vote of no confidence? It is a vote of no confidence which is a well trodden path in the history of union actions. As someone who was a CEO for many years who managed to run a college without ever precipitating any votes on my ability to lead a college through choppy waters, I have no problem with unions taking a view on the ability of their leader to lead. It is a failure of leadership to end up in this situation. To describe this as bullying is idiocy.

      • Richard Banks

        I can just imagine how it would go down the other way around. No due process, no opportunity to have one’s say or respond, just a crude mechanism designed to undermine one’s position. If that’s not bullying, I don’t know what is. No employee, including those in senior roles, should be treated thus.

    • DonVanVliet

      You’re right, the sector is changing. Nottingham College will be receiving £1.3m in additional government funding in 2020, which the Education Secretary has stated should primarily be used to improve wages.

    • Not So Confident

      Votes of No Confidence are actually rare in the FE sector, and not often encouraged by UCU as an organisation for obvious reasons – they can be consolatory but ineffective, and Richard is right, they have no legal basis. Do they constitute bullying? To determine that we’d need to look at examples and see if any kind of pattern emerges from the motivations of those who initiate them, the circumstance in which they occur, the impact that they have. The lack of confidence in the SLT and Board at Nottingham College is widespread and common to all staff groups and across all levels. Change? Well, yes of course change happens. But I assume all of us (including change champions such as Richard) would want to consider matters such as: is change ethical?, who benefits?, who’s disadvantaged?, who and what drives it?, what are the risks and costs?, what kind of future is it consistent with (and is it one that we want)?, have alternatives been considered – if so, who by; if not, why not?, etc. etc.

  2. Irritated Teacher

    Just to note that the 110 members who voted were the members that could make a notice at such short notice – by the request of management, to agree a deal that would have seen us back at work today. The college management have yet to respond.

    The dispute impacts on teachers and lower level management. There are 400 teachers, and an estimated union member saturation of around 75%

    That mandate is incredibly strong, and the teachers are having a massive impact on the running of the college, which is important, as the CEO himself thinks that teachers are ‘ten a penny’ and that the strength of feeling would dilute, because the ‘teachers can’t afford to strike’. They proved him wrong. Not only do they have the strength and the motivation to strike, they are exactly right in what they say. Management is at best, completely dysfunctional, and at worse should be investigated for negligence.

    The lecturers are on the right side of history, and the CEO and board of Governors need to know that their position is ultimately untenable.

    • You Again?

      So, 110 people voted in favour of this no confidence nonsense. You state there are 400 teachers. 110/400 is just 27.5%. If 75% of the teachers are members of the union, then 110/300 teaching union members voted for this. That’s just 37%. Out of the 1,290 total staff, 110 is a microscopic 8.5%. Hardly unanimous. Why is FE so bedevilled by nasty behaviour of a few? Have too many people been at school for too long?

      • Tyrion Lannister

        You Again?’s comment smacks of ignorance, both generally about FE and specifically about the situation.

        First of all, it completely overlooks what was stated in the previous reply. This was a meeting put together very last minute at the behest of management. UCU were playing ball in this respect in trying to bring about a resolution. The fact that the management refused to contact the branch either before or during the meeting, either to confirm they were signing the document they had been given two days prior or casting it aside, just demonstrated the contempt they have for the workforce. The people who were at the meeting made it at short notice and many more would have loved to have attended.

        People in FE are fed up of corporate rubbish interfering in the provision of education. The best example is the large number of staff who work in providing support for students were made redundant. When it came to assessing students for exam arrangements there simply weren’t enough employees to do the job. Management were warned about this on several occasions but simply ignored it until it was too late. They then hired in an outside agency at a greater cost than the staff they had made redundant. Bad business and very bad for education but this is what we pay the big bucks for.

        I would be quite happy to see a ballot of all staff at the college to see if they had confidence in the current SLT and board. I think the outcome would be the same. Unison balloted for action around the same time as UCU but fell a little short of the turnout requirements. The general feeling at the college is one of being taken for granted whether you are a lecturer, librarian, administrator, prem-tech, canteen worker, cleaner, or pretty much any other role, including many of the managers not at the SLT level. I think confidence in the current setup is at an all time low.

        When you add to all this the fact that these people making these appalling decisions are being paid six figure salaries or close to, or in the case of the CEO £207000, all of which is from the public purse, I think great restraint has been shown by the employees thus far.

        So please, before you comment further, try to get a better picture of the situation rather than crunching a few numbers without any real knowledge of the underlying context.

      • 110 out of 390 UCU teachers voted. They managed to get to a 4;30 late notice meeting. Huge numbers were unable to make it, but all voiced their support.

        If 110 of 500 teaching staff, who have no history of nastiness, and participated in very few strikes previously, think the leadership is inept. Then it needs to be taken seriously. These are staff with years and years of experience. Patient and rationale people, but pragmatic. As all FE teachers need to be.

      • DonVanVliet

        When your CEO gives you six hours to find a location and pull a meeting together, getting 110 people to it is pretty impressive.

        There are 393 union members at Nottingham College of a total of 550 teaching staff. That’s 71%, which is definitely impressive by any measure.

        This article is fundamentally inaccurate: the so-called 9% would actually represent 20% of teaching staff – you know, the staff who are actually eligible to join UCU. There are nearly 900 support staff who haven’t found a way to voice their disapproval collectively yet, but believe me, working on the ground there are very, very few of them who wouldn’t endorse this motion.

        If you were managing a college where 75% of teaching staff had made it unequivocally clear that they have no faith whatsoever in you, would you walk?

        • Not Again!

          “There are 393 union members at Nottingham College of a total of 550 teaching staff.”

          “If you were managing a college where 75% of teaching staff had made it unequivocally clear that they have no faith whatsoever in you, would you walk?”

          110 voting No Confidence out of 393 possible voters is not 75%. It is 28%. No, I wouldn’t walk. But I might introduce some basic arithmetic training.

    • Brian Redhead

      “The lecturers are on the right side of history …”

      Class struggle brothers! We’re making world history. Here, in Nottingham. At an FE college. The world is watching. Solidarity, brothers!

  3. Irritated Teacher

    This was a unanimous vote of a quorate committee…. there is a 75% (rough figure) saturation of UCU members within the teaching staff, a figure that has grown since the CEO came on board, and grown again in some of the largest month on month figures of new members since the strike. 110 members is an incredible amount of core voters to attend a meeting with a few hours notice. Stop trying to drag the attention away from the ridiculous behaviour of the SLT.

    I’m not sure whether you are part of the Nottingham community, or close to the college. The strength of feeling is immense.

    I would have no issue whatsoever in voting no confidence in a CEO who publicly declared ‘business as usual’ in the press, when in reality the withdrawal of labour of the union has rendered the college unworkable. I would have no issue whatsoever in declaring a CEO who refused point blank to negotiate or discuss the contracts in good faith, for nearly 8 months, and who refused to negotiate in any way over the summer knowing full well that the strike would happen.

    No confidence is a last resort – and is a measure of strength of feeling. It was right and proper that the behaviour of SLT and BoG was highlighted in this way.

  4. Eddy Bull

    @Richard Banks. The way the contract was forced through, can only be described as bullying. Bully someone, expect retaliation,

    From a personal perspective, I have worked for major companies in 3 different countries. This is the only board I have worked for that I can honestly say are devoid of talent and really do not have an ability to communicate. If there were shareholders involved, they would’ve Been gone a good 18 months ago.

  5. Mr A Student

    Sorry, but I feel it is getting more complicated than it’s worth. I am a student at Nottingham College and this strike is really causing myself and my peers problems. Our future is on the line and we are resting in the hands of you good people. It’s as simple as this – SORT IT OUT QUICKLY and stop being petty – at least you’re not on minimum wage. And that’s aimed at everyone at the table, not one specific side.

  6. May I just say as a former FE lecturer, I have so much respect for what UCU are doing at Nottingham College. Truly inspiring – contrary to tabloid rubbish, teaching staff are extremely reluctant to go on strike, you certainly don’t go into this line of work for the pay, so obviously all of us think about the impact on the students – this is often used against us.

  7. Teacher at Nottingham College

    I can say that this has affected all staff and has brought hardship as a result of these cuts. Having worked at the college with no raises in 7 years then to have holidays cut and wages is ultimately is de-motivating with increased workloads.

    For vocational staff, industry pays more. So the question is do we want to pay for a quality of teaching or as I have seen unskilled and low knowledge lecturers paid less for the same roles teaching the future learners part or missing criteria as a result.

    Remember people who are good remain in industry. Our college has seen standards drop from the level of learners and respect for staff.