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.

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