College principal leaves amid crisis claims

Artist's impression of Wigan and Leigh College once current upgrades are completed (below) Cath Hurst
Artist's impression of Wigan and Leigh College once current upgrades are completed (below) Cath Hurst

THE boss of Wigan’s key further education centre has suddenly left amid staff claims of crisis.

Cath Hurst has been principal Wigan and Leigh College campus for the past six years and received an OBE for her services to education two years ago.

Cath Hurst

Cath Hurst

She has also piloted a massive £12.3m investment in new campus buildings and facilities.

In a statement on behalf of the chair of the Governing Board Liz Shea sent to staff, she is said to have taken the decision to leave to “explore new challenges.”

But a lecturer who asked to remain anonymous claimed Ms Hurst was leaving amid a “meltdown” of middle management resignations because of cuts to the Inclusive Learning department revealed by the Evening Post as proposals for consultation earlier this year.

In the interim, vice-principals Simon Nixon and Teresa Farran will be in joint charge.

Ms Hurst’s departure comes just two weeks before the end of the academic year.

A student at Wigan and Leigh College herself in 1979, Ms Hurst returned as an educational management professional and was appointed principal in 2008.

But governors insisted today said that the college has enjoyed “many successes” during her time, including a number of transformational capital building projects which transformed the Parson’s Walk campus.

She had also overseen the large scale project to form a dedicated Engineering and Construction Centre at Pagefield which had generated an increase in learners.

Ms Hurst, who also sits on the Wigan Forward Board, had successfully promoted the college’s work with businesses at a “critical time” when assisting people to gain skills is vital.

As vice-principal between 2002 and 2008 and principal since, she led the college through three Ofsted inspections where at the last, in February 2010, the college gained a “good” rating and was judged to have demonstrated “outstanding practice” in its partnerships and in meeting the needs for students.

The College also gained silver Investors in People award in February 2014.

In a statement Ms Hurst said: “I am really proud to have worked with so many committed staff that genuinely care about students and want them to succeed.

“There are many effective partnerships which have supported the college and I am sure it will go from strength to strength.

“Wigan has been a fantastic place to work and I wish it well.”

There was no one available from the college branch of the University College Union (UCU).

But a lecturer, who asked not to be named. claimed that the college was in “crisis and meltdown” because of changes to the Inclusive Learning department.

She said: “Nearly half of the IL officers have now been made redundant at a time when they are so desperately needed, it will be impossible to support vulnerable students in the new academic year.

“In the last few weeks two senior managers and four divisional managers have resigned, tutors have been volunteering for redundancy because morale is at an all time low.

“The college is relying on support teachers who last an average of six weeks to present the curriculum, students are having up to six different teachers in one academic year and official complaints are being received in record numbers.”

She also claimed that the college was refusing to publish a staff questionnaire about all aspects of campus life because the results were “so negative.”

A college spokesman said: “In response to national pressures in funding for further education colleges, Wigan and Leigh College is, like many others, regrettably facing staffing cuts due to a reduction in budget.

“The college has recently undergone a period of consultation with the relevant staff and trade unions.

“Staff across the organisation were asked about the possibility of retirement, voluntary redundancy, reduced working or re-training to minimise compulsory redundancies.

“Significantly, the funding mechanism to support learners has changed and resources need to be

targeted much more effectively to ensure the college is equipped to meet the needs that some

learners may have.

“The college prides itself on the quality of Additional Learning Support it provides to learners and seeks to reassure parents and learners that the quality of support will be maintained.”