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A destination for leadership

18 June 2015

I was recently asked to partake in a survey relating to the recruitment of senior leaders within the college sector but my conversation rapidly descended into a rather heated debate with the researcher who insisted that there isn’t sufficient leadership talent in further education (FE). This is a huge bugbear of mine, as for the last six years I’ve been directly involved in the recruitment of senior leaders for colleges and helped to appoint over 100 senior managers in the last couple of years alone. Based on my experience across other sectors I can assure you that FE has a strong talent pipeline but it is one which needs to be supported and developed, not criticised and neglected. FE colleges provide high-quality technical and professional education and training for young people, adults and employers. They are inspirational places to learn because the education and training is delivered by expert teaching staff within industry-standard facilities. Central to their success is the strong leadership already being demonstrated in colleges up and down the country. Many successful colleges already work tirelessly to stretch and challenge their leadership team to ensure it is as strong as it possibly can be. Existing and aspiring leaders are nurtured and supported, given the opportunity to meet regularly with the Board in order to hone their skills and experience. This proactive approach naturally strengthens the core leadership team but also makes staff feel more valued, boosts retention and facilitates effective succession planning. It’s true that we have an ageing demographic of experienced principals but there’s a host of aspiring and recently appointed principals who are ready and eager to tackle the challenges facing the sector. Of course there is always more we can do and we should also be encouraging individuals from outside the sector to become college leaders. FE can be a hugely attractive proposition because of the measurable impact it has on people’s lives. We need to do more to take this message to a wider audience without underplaying the challenges inherent when transitioning into the sector. To suggest that the sector has a leadership problem is unfounded and quite frankly an insult to principals and other members of senior management teams striving to deliver in ever more difficult circumstances. The impact that college leaders have on their students – the leaders of tomorrow – is incredible. Let’s not be complacent but let’s celebrate the talent we already have and ensure we give these individuals every chance to succeed. Jo Johnston is the Managing Director of AoC Create. AoC Create is the commercial arm of the Association of Colleges. They provide executive recruitment and interim management opportunities, alongside delivering conferences, training events and consultancy services.