From education to employment

Leadership for a world of freedoms… and austerity

Rob Wye is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service

January is the month when we reflect on the last year, consider what the coming year holds, and forecast for the years ahead. What has struck me is that for the FE sector, 2011 laid the foundations for our new world of freedoms, providing new focus. However, every opportunity is balanced with a challenge or constraint and we know that in the current context that means austerity. As for the years beyond 2012, I think all we can say with certainty is that the challenges will be different to those of the last few years and we know that, as a sector, flexibility and resilience are going to be essential if we are to lead and respond effectively.

That’s why I think leadership has never been so important. Leaders, at every level of the sector, need to be fit for today and fit for the future.

As a sector we need to be constructive and positive about succession planning and talent management. We need to invest in our future leaders, for the future of the sector, in the same way we invest in our learners, for the future of the economy. So at LSIS we are working with a number of our recognised highly effective sector leaders, encouraging them to reflect on their leadership development and to ask them to identify the skills and behaviours that they want to take forward and instil in the leaders of the future. LSIS is then embedding these in our programmes to make sure that today’s first-line and middle leaders have the skills, capabilities and expertise to be fleet of foot, insightful, entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow, able to handle changing contexts and different environments. At our Leadership and Management conference a range of senior leaders will be sharing their development with us, encouraging the leaders of the future and providing them with the understanding of what it takes to be successful leaders of learning and learners.

Many Principals and Vice-Principals have reported back to me and my colleagues at LSIS how much they have valued the principles of reflective practice that we have embedded in our training programmes. Applying and valuing reflective time is something that they continue in their everyday work. LSIS is committed to this approach, and reflective practice continues to be at the heart of our new Senior Leadership Programme. However, reflection needs to be applied with other skills and capabilities. So the new Senior Leadership Programme builds on this, applying it to the current challenges and equipping participants with the skills needed to address the future challenges effectively.

Effective leadership learning is not only built around the challenge and support that one gets from others, both inside the organisation and from outside it, but also on personal reflection.  The role that our governing bodies and corporations play is also changing, and their importance is increasing as their freedoms grow. Governing bodies have to be clear about what they need in new leaders for their organisations to survive and thrive. It is good to see our leaders moving to ensure that their expertise benefits many colleges. However, change must not become churn; governing bodies need to have the confidence to appoint new leaders, not just interim leaders. Interims do a sterling job, but too many and we will find the FE sector failing to meet the challenges that it has been set, and failing to demonstrate the leading role that it can play.

For governing bodies, that also means asking themselves some questions. Do they have the skills, experiences, capabilities and behaviours to support and challenge a future leader? Through LSIS’s Learning Boards we’ve been facilitating governing bodies through a process of reflective practice, self-review and development. These enable governing bodies to identify what they do well, but also what they need to do to improve. This is a theme we will be continuing to explore at our Annual Governance Conference along with the new models and new partnerships that are being established, including between Governors and their senior leadership teams.

When we think of leadership, let’s not get forget our student leaders. LSIS continues to work with the National Union of Students and the Association of Colleges, supporting our leaders of the future. It is vital that our student leaders are empowered to have impact, and that the succession planning we put in place encourages other students to play a role in leading their college. And I am delighted that is a conversation that will continue at our Student Governor Forum.

When we think of successful organisations, we find great leadership whether subtle or explicit has always been critical to that success. Leadership at every level of our sector, for every provider, for the future of further education and skills has never been so important. I am delighted that we are working together to make sure that FE gets the leadership it deserves to make the most of our new freedoms.

Rob Wye is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, which aims to accelerate the drive for excellence in the learning and skills sector

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