To consider the attached report.
The Democratic Services Manager presented a report concerning the scrutiny of Epping Forest College.
The Democratic Services Manager reminded the Committee that the former Principal of Epping Forest College had attended the Committee on 27 February 2018 to report on the plans to improve the College’s performance following its ‘inadequate’ report from Ofsted. In August 2018, Epping Forest College had merged with New City College. An invitation was extended to the new Principal to attend the meeting scheduled for 3 September 2019, to report on the progress being made with the implementation of improvement plans, and to respond to the concerns of Members regarding the College’s curriculum and its future intentions for its landholdings.
The Democratic Services Manager reported that the new Principal, Ms Janet Smith, had responded and felt it was not appropriate for the College to report to the Council in this manner. The College was answerable to its own governing body and was open and transparent in its dealings with the public. However, the Principal added that she would be happy to meet with Councillors to discuss the improvement at the College since the merger, but only on an informal basis, and would keep the Council informed on the development of the new Wellbeing & Leisure Centre.
Therefore, given the response from the Principal, it had been recommended that the external scrutiny of the College be removed from the Work Programme for the Committee for 2019/20. It had also been recommended that the Service Director for Communities & Partnerships should make arrangements for an informal briefing between the Principal and Members of the Committee. However, it was also suggested that the Service Director and the Chief Executive should meet with the Chief Executive of New City College prior to the Members meeting with the Principal of Epping Forest College.
Councillor Neville commented that it was unfortunate the Principal of the College felt she did not need to come before the Committee, especially as it was residents of the District which sent their children there to be educated. The previous Principal had attended although it was pleasing that an alternative offer had been made.
Councillor Murray also expressed his disappointment at the response from the Principal, as he felt there were some important issues at the College which required scrutiny. Local residents were very interested in the College’s plans for their local landholdings. However, Councillor Murray also explained that the new Principal had a slightly different role with responsibility for just the curriculum and no other areas like finance and land holdings, unlike her predecessor. The College was also intending to focus on vocational qualifications in the future and would cease offering ‘A’ Levels. The Councillor felt that the College was improving with lower numbers of students increasing the quality. The Committee should pursue an informal briefing or meeting with the Principal, but the Councillor also supported the idea of a pre-meeting with the Chief Executive of New City College.
The Democratic Services Manager informed the Committee that the Council had not formally responded to the Principal but would do so after this evening’s meeting. Councillor Knight was disappointed with the response of the Principal, and suggested that a Member of the Committee could also be involved in the meeting with the Chief Executive of New City College. However, the Chairman felt that the discussion with the Chief Executive would be facilitated better if it was with Officers only, and that going through some informal meetings could build a relationship which would lead to attendance at formal meetings of the Committee in the future. The Committee was also reminded that a member of the Council sat on the College’s governing body and reported back to the Council.
Councillor Sunger suggested that the Council should write to the Chairman of the College’s governing body, as the Council also had the best interests of the College at heart; it was our residents that attended the College. However, the Chairman reminded the Committee that it did not have any powers to enforce external organisations to appear before it, and the Democratic Services Manager reminded the Committee that external organisations were advised, when invited to attend, that an adversarial approach was not taken by the Committee.
It was suggested that the Committee should visit the College as it had facilities to hold informal meetings, and the Councillors could get an idea of the facilities available at the College for students. However, the Committee felt that it should be left up to the Principal to decide the best venue for the meeting.
(1) That the decision of the Joint Principal of the Epping Forest and Redbridge Campuses of New City College to not engage with the Council’s proposed approach to external scrutiny of the ongoing improvement of further education services at the Epping Forest campus be noted;
(2) That the proposed external scrutiny of Epping Forest College be removed from the Work Programme of the Committee for 2019/20;
(3) That appropriate arrangements be made by the Service Director for Communities and Partnerships with the Joint Principal of the Epping Forest and Redbridge Campuses of New City College for Members to be advised of the progress with improvements at the Epping Forest Campus, by way of a Member briefing or visit to the College; and
(4) That, prior to the meeting with the Joint Principal, arrangements be made by the Chief Executive and Service Director for Communities and Partnerships to meet with the Chief Executive of the New City College to informally discuss member concerns.