Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Mike Hopkins, Principal of Middlesbrough College asked on Twitter “Compared with 20/30 years ago why do comparatively few people apply for FE College Principal jobs? Any ideas?”.  He posed the question to @157Lynne and @Education4me. It was retweeted by Lindsay McCurdy, Nick Linford and others but despite many replies no satisfactory reasons were really identified.

The same week brought a tweet from @NikkiGilbey who was frustrated at the lack of opportunities to expand their management opportunities; to be mentored, supported and encouraged to reach Principalship one day #futureprincipal.

Is there a connection? Is it that there are few candidates due to the lack of internal F.E. mentoring and career progression?

How many really good lecturing and middle management staff find it impossible to make that last step to SMT?

Many could do the job; have the right basic skills, are ripe for development, have the right approach, a history of innovation and success, a passion for F.E. but just can’t get on the team.


Is there a need for real mentoring and professional development to enable a new cohort of #futureprincipals? 

How many colleges enable staff to shadow other managers, to take on projects (under supervision) to develop their skills, knowledge and confidence, to work with other colleges; to undertake a mentored, supported programme of career development?  Very few; talking to other staff at all levels, this experience is non-existent, mostly for financial reasons.

If a new member of SMT is needed, an external candidate is brought in and yes, this is a good approach; new blood, new thinking. However, if we don't train our own staff, mentor and develop them, to 'swap' with other colleges, this 'swapshop' will shortly stop. It is already showing signs of slowing.

F.E. faces an urgent shortfall of experienced Principals. Many are retiring after years of excellent service; who will replace them? Not many staff who have worked their way up through the ranks of F.E.  

Yes, there is a need in some colleges for a CEO role, which combined with Principalship, may be too large a job for one person, so many are brought in from Industry for their experience in this type of role but they have no experience of education.  

Does this matter? 

I think it does. F.E. is more than a business; learning is more than ‘ticking boxes’, success is not just about ‘targets’. There is a need for an intrinsic understanding of human behaviour that goes beyond capability with a spreadsheet and the ability to develop Enterprise.

A great Principal has a miasmic presence in their college, an influence beyond the paperwork; one who infuses the college with a sense of purpose and appreciation.  There is no doubt that Principalship is a difficult, time-consuming but hugely rewarding role, that’s why so many people, who have devoted their careers to F.E. would like the opportunity to train for it.

In F.E., we support our learners; give them opportunities for work experience, developing enterprise and employability skills to help them in the job market of their choice. Why do we not do the same for our staff ? Why do we deliver endless CPD via PowerPoint to meet the needs of the CIF, and fail to develop their leadership and management skills for the future needs of F.E?

There is an urgent need now for staff who are not just well-qualified but have the empathy and experience that F.E. requires to be truly successful. It is almost too late for many colleges who are about to have their longstanding and truly great Principal replaced by an external CEO with no experience of F.E. This is 'shooting yourself in the foot' time, when so many F.E. staff are jumping up and down in class, raising their arms in the air and shouting 'Me Sir, Me Sir'.

Is this something we can hope the newly emerging FEGuild* will address; are you listening to us Sir?

* Overnight, the FEGuild was relaunched as 'Education and Training Foundation' or 'ETF'. No matter the name, I hope they recognise that FE staff and staff in Training Organisations require as much development as the learners.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Who are the '29'? Even Twitter doesn't seem to know.

So the '29' masked warriors of the F.E. Guild meet at Windsor Castle to enjoy some 'complex thinking'. The report in FE Weekly by Eleanor Radford is a depressing read for many involved in FE.

Not so much the venue, or even so much the cost at £8,265, equal to £285 per person, to include lunch, a three-course dinner, drinks and accommodation. Although as LeeMarkDavies rightly points out " It could have utilised 21stC technology and had its meeting in a public place (I understand many colleges have such places) with sector-wide participation through the web. It could hit the ground running as an engaged, teacher and learner focussed organisation." 

By locating its headquarters in Coventry, a saving of £60,000 could have been made (Greg Wood) but again, cost is not a such consideration when you have £18 million to play with.

Wrankling as these things are to a cash strapped, financially challenged sector which appears more and more to be a pie in which everyone has a finger, they are not the main issues.

Most irritating of all are the secrecy surrounding the "29", the lost opportunity to hit the ground running and the chance to prove that they are not another 'me first, sector second' organisation.

Who are they? Are they fit to judge us? Do they represent every aspect of the Sector? What are they going to do for us? Our Learners?, Our partners in business, small and large? Our sub-contractors?

Why the secrecy?

The proposed FE Guild has got it wrong, very wrong.

The Guild had the opportunity to show they understood. They could have invited a range of those at the coal face; staff and learners, but yet again, it is only the 'Great and the Good'.

They have demonstrated as clearly as an indiscreet hand gesture that the proposed F.E. Guild is not about the welfare of Further Education at all. It looks like an 'old boys club' , repeating the same old mistakes, riding the same old roller-coaster, jumping from one sinking ship to another to preserve themselves.

If there is no transparency now, dare we hope for more in the future?

I doubt it; the proposed Guild is unlikely to last more than a couple of years before they all jump ship to the next set of initials and begin the work of "detailed confidential thinking on behalf of the sector.”

F.E. is 21 next year; the staff and learners have come of age. Focussed and hard working they achieve wonders with vey little.

Isn't it time our self-proclaimed leaders did the same?

With leadership that looks like this, it is no wonder that some Principals feel they can hang on in colleges for years and years, having never achieved more than a Grade 3, letting down learner after learner and frustrating the ambitions of staff to teach well and make a difference.