Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare

Have you seen those jobs that appear regularly in the Sunday Times looking for a Chief Executive or Director? As I sat down on Sunday evening scanning these advertisements I noted the requirements which, among many others, were to manage a team of staff, develop new marketing strategies and restructure the organisations ready for the future.

For those of us in Further Education it sounds all too familiar.  Interestingly, one post I was reading spoke about 'work-life balance and a 37 hour week', so perhaps the similarity ends there unless we can say categorically 'no work-life balance and double the hours of the working week'!

The world of Further Education is both rich and diverse but what I like about it is the level of challenge it brings and the massive difference it can make to the lives of young people and adults. Without blowing our own trumpets we are quite good at solution orientation and I marvel at how we solve problems while other elements of society seem to be disorganised, lack focus with a glass always half empty. I think that our expertise is far reaching and can be used to influence change in other sectors.

Many of the institutions we hold near and dear in the UK are fine organisations, set up for the best of reasons and, despite bureaucratic and financial drawbacks, functioning at a level other countries can only envy.

That said, there is always room for improvement. Take the NHS, for example. One can be booked into an Assessment Unit or A&E department with a high degree of professionalism, but thereafter the process can be frustratingly long and with little communication from staff to patients. However, with guidance and training key administrative and operational processes could easily be changed and enhanced. 

Do we as educational professionals see opportunities to influence and create better practice?...Yes, I think so.

Anyway it’s the time of year where colleges are involved in staff recruitment for next year. Our interviews this year include some very senior appointments due to retirements of some very eminent staff.

As ever, the calibre of applicants is very mixed but I thought I would give some examples of some statements made by interviewees and my interpretation.

“I would adopt an holistic approach to the issue”

(Has no idea about the question so will aimlessly look at the situation with no measure of success)

“I am very entrepreneurial”

(Could be a maverick that has no intention of following a corporate agenda or approach)

Interesting interpretations don’t you think, and no doubt familiar to anyone who has undergone the recruitment process in the last few years.  One of the big issues for me however is the need to recruit individuals who can ‘think outside the box’ and ensure that change management is focused around further improving service standards for the learner.

Within our existing team at Weston College we already have such individuals and their influence is great. Some of the work they have undertaken includes devising a bespoke re-engagement programme for the unemployed; creating a new centre for alternative technologies; developing a new way of supporting learners with Autism and Asperger’s; creating a bid for a University Technical College and bidding against other UK colleges for offender learning work in the Prison Service.

I am very lucky – my teams of staff abound with individuals who demonstrate the true meaning of ‘entrepreneurial’, individuals who give over and above in terms of commitment and key individuals who have significant pride in what they do at the College. Take those staff and mix them with a dedicated team of support professionals and you have a recipe for significant success.

I continue to relish the challenges and opportunities that the world of Further Education brings. In the last twelve months we hope to establish further degree courses for our ever growing undergraduate numbers, together with a new model of learning for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. All of our ventures/projects focus around the value added concept and I have no doubt they will exude the real meaning of Further Education in terms of development and opportunities for young people and adults. Let’s be proud of our Educational system and what it brings to the people of Great Britain.

Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare

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