At City of Liverpool College, the teachers are at war with the management
Allegations of staff mistreatment, trade union victimisation, and more students than chairs
Dear members — “It’s hard to overstate the importance of [City of Liverpool College] in Liverpool,” Jack Walton writes at the beginning of today’s article about the growing tension between teachers and management at the city’s only further education facility. After the sacking of a teacher (and union rep) in March, a week-long set of protests were held by staff during lunchtimes. But this would prove to be just the beginning of a story involving allegations of bullying; the stripping back of valued services and reports of class sizes doubling.
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By Jack Walton
Before she was sacked, Nina Doran felt she was at the peak of her powers. She’d been teaching at The City of Liverpool College for 28 years, long before it even had that name. And she was good at it. “I loved my job,” she says. In the eyes of one colleague, “Nina was one of the very best we had.”
Her sacking — in March this year — came as the latest in a long line of incidents of concern to staff at the college. A dispute between the college and the union representing many of them, the University and College Union (UCU), had been raging on for months over pay and conditions. As she was a union rep, some felt Doran had been targeted.
A week-long set of protests was held during lunchtimes in March, shortly after the sacking, to challenge her dismissal. The protesters brandished banners that suggested a shift in the college’s purpose: “education for the community not for profit” and the incident made the national press. It appeared that two stories were playing out on parallel tracks. One, the sacking of a much-loved teacher. The other, that a far deeper malaise had set in at one of the city’s most valuable institutions.
Doran’s dismissal raised particular alarm for two reasons. Firstly, she was the fourth union rep to be sacked in eight years. Secondly, her initial suspension had come only a week before the longest strike action the union had prepared to that date. As the chief negotiator in the pay dispute, Doran had been at work campaigning and organising reps. The college says she was sacked for a “breach of confidence”. We can’t go into the details of the incident for legal reasons, but Doran believes she was unfairly sacked and her union says they are fully supporting her at her upcoming tribunal next year.
As an isolated case, Doran’s story alone doesn’t amount to evidence of anything, but UCU have claimed it is the latest incident in a “pattern” of dismissals. And the issues seemingly run deeper than that.
We’ve spoken to ten staff at the college in the past few weeks. Of course, with any employment dispute, interviewing ex-employees is likely to result in some bad-tempered testimony. But certain patterns and consistent claims emerged in our interviews. The sources allege that CoLC has become a place where teachers are poorly treated by their managers, finances are mismanaged and unionised staff are victimised. We have put all of these allegations to the college, which they staunchly deny.
The college told The Post that “these claims present a grossly inaccurate misrepresentation of The City of Liverpool College, made by a very small number of staff, past and present”. They said the College “is committed to ensuring all staff, regardless of pay grade, union membership or identity, enjoy the right to be treated respectfully and fairly.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of CoLC in Liverpool. Being the only further education facility in the city, it plays a crucial role, catering to 16 year olds stepping out of school in the hope of more vocationally-oriented study as well as adults looking to retrain and change career paths. In an interview with Downtown in Business two years ago, principal Elaine Bowker said the oldest student on campus was 80.
In the days of ex-principal Wally Brown, who served in the role between 1992 and 2008, the college was transformed into a highly respected place of learning. He led the college to an “Outstanding” grade at Ofsted and later received the Freedom of the City for his efforts. He is described by one staff member as a “giant among educators”, who continues: “he had this way of talking to you that made you feel like you were walking on clouds.” When receiving an honorary degree from Edge Hill University in 2014 he was described as “one of the most important individuals in Liverpool’s history”.
But the Brown era is now a distant memory. 11 years ago, the college appointed a new leadership, led by principal Bowker. “They wanted to make fundamental changes to how we operated,” Doran says. The old name, Liverpool Community College, was chucked out for the newer, more businesslike one: City of Liverpool College. A period of upheaval ensued.