HC Deb 14 February 1995 vol 254 cc595-7W
Mr. Lidington

To ask the Secretary of State for Education when she will announce her response to the recommendations of the Further Education Funding Council for England concerning St. Philip's Roman Catholic sixth form college, Birmingham; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

Following the publication of the FEFC's report on the college and its recommendations last November, I have received a number of representations from the trustees, from present and former governors and others connected with the college. After considering these most carefully, I am satisfied that there was mismanagement of the college.

The recommendation from the Further Education Funding Council was that I should remove and replace all the members of the governing body in order, the Council advised, to provide a fresh start and a complete break from the past. However, the hon. Member will be aware that it is possible that the college will close at the end of the 1995–96 academic year. This is a matter in which the relevant legislation gives me no say. In the current circumstances, I have decided that it would not be expedient for me to replace the remaining governors. A number of governors have already resigned. Those who remain have all been in post for a very short time and are now, I believe, doing their best to ensure good governance of the college and, in particular, to secure that the education of the students remains the first priority.

The funding council also made recommendations concerning amending the instrument of government and the provision of a statutory procedure to govern the closure of designated colleges in the further education sector. We shall be considering these recommendations in consultation with those concerned with St. Philip's and other designated colleges.

I am very grateful to the funding council for investigating the circumstances at the college and for the action it is taking to disseminate the lessons to be learnt. A copy of the official response to the funding council is being placed in the Library. It is clear that these difficulties are not typical of the further education sector as a whole. It is using its new freedoms responsibly, and has already made impressive progress. I hope that I shall not be required to exercise my powers again, but I shall not hesitate to do so if I consider it warranted.