Interim principal vows to fix Great Yarmouth College

The 'super head' brought in to transform the fortunes of a troubled Norfolk college has given a pledge that its problems are 'completely fixable'.

Heather Maxwell, 61, who was awarded an OBE for her 40 years' service to education, has been brought in as interim principal at Great Yarmouth College following the resignation of Robin Parkinson earlier this week.

His departure after 17 years as principal came days after a visit by Ofsted inspectors who were so concerned by aspects of the way the college was being run that they even considered taking away its independence and putting it under the temporary management of a neighbouring college.

As principal of South Devon College in Torbay Ms Maxwell turned around the college from an 'unsatisfactory' Ofsted in 2002 to an 'outstanding' college with beacon status six years later.

She said: 'Some of the issues are similar to South Devon College where at the beginning leadership was not sufficiently focused on teaching and learning, management information systems were wholly inadequate, teaching standards were variable and staff lacked leadership.'

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She said teaching was variable at Yarmouth College too - standards ranging from good to inadequate - and stressed that at a general further education college catering for a wide variety of learners, it was especially important for teachers to be 'at the top of their game'.

Ms Maxwell, who since retiring from South Devon a year ago has acted as a consultant helping other colleges solve governance and strategic planning issues, will be in her role at least until the middle of January when vice-principal Julia Howard returns to work after surgery.

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She said: 'I will focus leadership on our core business of teaching and learning. Every system, every service will be around enabling learners to succeed.'

She said the college had already begun to put right highlighted weaknesses in information systems which meant staff at all levels had indequate student data to plan.

Mr Parkinson, the principal for 17 years, had been suspended since early July when the college's number two, finance director Roy Hughes, made a formal complaint of harassment against his boss.

An independent investigation found no evidence of bullying but concurred with Mr Hughes regarding flaws in the restructuring of the college overseen by Mr Parkinson, impacting on the ability of senior staff to do their job and future financial security.

Their report highlighted 'a serious disconnect between curriculum planning - including teaching, staff numbers and deployment and class sizes - and the college's annual budget and three-year financial plans'.

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