Chris Thomson, Education Consultant and former sixth form college principal.

How to put out fires with… strategy 

What prevents college principals from achieving educational provision of the highest quality? This doesn’t have to be a question you idly wonder about like the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. You can actually ask, and I did.

A variety of answers came back but most centred around one idea: fire-fighting.

Respondents hadn’t given up on the ambition of achieving outstanding quality but more pressing concerns constantly got in the way. The important was continually defeated by the urgent.

What, then, are these ‘pressing concerns’? Two obvious examples are building programmes and funding problems. To which at the moment we can certainly add coronavirus. But without diminishing the significance of such matters we can be quite certain they do not necessarily doom the pursuit of high-quality educational provision: some colleges achieve excellence despite them.

What makes the difference is whether or not a college possesses a culture conducive to the attainment of real quality. And a much less clamorous and far more pernicious ‘pressing concern’ which some principals spoke of is the continual, sapping skirmishes and run-ins between a college management trying to make progress in quality improvement and sometimes just a few, influential staff resistant to this.

Principals in this predicament are caught in a vicious circle

A quality culture, if it could be achieved, would remove the mutually resentful day-to-day attrition. But the initiatives college management take toward achieving such a culture are precisely what cause further flare-ups and all the stress and emotional wear and tear they entail.

How do you break this cycle? The true answer is: in as many different ways as there are different cases; no two colleges are quite the same.

But in general, two things often give momentum to that vicious circle:

  1. making the case for change at the level of what rather than why and,
  2. secondly, hurrying consultation.

If you try to persuade someone a new initiative is a good idea because of what it involves and what it will achieve, human nature will very naturally respond by asking why? And the ensuing debate will move backwards towards first principles rather than forwards towards implementation.

Creating a quality culture

So the first rule of creating a quality culture is:

  1. Start with first principles, with the most fundamental question you can ask. Consult with everyone on a review of the college’s mission and whatever else make sure there is a commitment to excellence, however you word it. Once you’ve got that you have the answer to the why question. ‘Why should we support this quality initiative?’ ‘Because it delivers our mission. Now let’s move on.’
  2. The second rule is not to hurry the consultation about the mission - or anything else. In my early years as a college principal I was always inclined to. To be honest I looked on consultation as a necessary evil. We had to go through with it, but it felt like treading water.

Encourage discussion and get people thinking

Bit by bit its real value dawned on me. The process of consultation is the opportunity for college management to encourage discussion and get people thinking.

Two real benefits flow from this. One is that suggestions are made which can improve the proposal. Even more importantly, it allows time for minds to change and for the one or two minds distant from the consensus to adjust to the inevitable.

Advertisement

If you manage at the pace of people’s emotions, implementation is likelier to be all the easier and more successful for it. As a college leader you learn from the consultation how staff are thinking, what the hot spots are and where you can valuably make a key concession.

Concession? Certainly. If the mission you have set out is going to be achieved, it will require commitment from all staff to make a success of it. This means you need to work with staff, not on them. If you get 75% of the distance you were striving for, that’s fine because you’ve also moved the culture in the right direction.

In due course you can return to where you got to and find the mood is that bit more conducive. Again, you get 75% of the remaining 25% which, if my arithmetic is right, gets you about 95% of the way towards the original goal.

I’d settle for that. Wouldn’t you?

Chris Thomson, Education Consultant and former sixth form college principal

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page