New research funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) reflects on how leaders might ‘beat the odds, and the system’ to transform college performance.

The piece "Beating the odds, and the system: Purpose-led transformation in further education", has been prepared by Matt Hamnett, a former Whitehall civil servant and college chief executive.

Noting that the further education sector context is unreasonably difficult, he argues that a relentless focus on organisational purpose, a simple strategy, the adoption of best practices common in other sectors and authentic leadership are critical.

Of the piece FETL President, Dame Ruth Silver, said:

“Bringing about swift change is one of the toughest challenges a leader can take on. This piece makes an important contribution to the debate on how colleges can transform performance in what is an incredibly challenging context.

It is perhaps the most personal piece of work FETL has published. Leadership is a lonely business and it is all too unusual to find someone prepared to share so much of themselves whilst reflecting on the mechanics of transformation. I am sure colleagues will relate to and engage with this piece.”

Author Matt Hamnett, said:

“A cocktail of funding cuts, policy changes and their unintended consequences mean that transforming a college is now an unreasonably difficult task.

Through this piece, I’ve identified things which I believe will help leaders to beat the odds, and the system, to transform colleges. A relentless focus on purpose, a simple and genuinely-strategic strategy and the application of improvement techniques more common in other sectors are all crucial.

Authentic, human and accessible leadership makes a huge difference. Leaders should live their college’s purpose, strategy and values in everything they do.”

The report makes thirteen recommendations to leaders, including that they:

  • Leverage the inspirational power of colleges’ purpose to galvanise and guide staff.
  • Establish a thorough, detailed and nuanced understanding of the baseline position.
  • Chart their own, considered and strategic course through Government policy changes.
  • Believe and invest in the talent of staff, building a culture which supports performance.
  • Apply project management, process and analysis techniques common in other sectors.
  • Lead authentically, living the organisation’s purpose and values in their own conduct.

Over the next few weeks FE News will be publishing this research in full, and FETL will be hosting a webinar with Matt on the report later in February.

Matt Hamnett, Director, MH+A, said:

"The purpose of this piece is to understand and offer some reflections on the transformation of further education colleges which are not performing to the level that their students, business customers and communities should expect.

"To do that, I want to establish a proper sense of colleges’ operating environment; understand what’s typically wrong in colleges which aren’t performing to the expected level; and, most importantly, I want to think about how they might deliver the transformation required to improve their performance.

"I do so by looking at the oodles of available data, reflecting on my own experience and – significantly – by taking the advice of colleagues within and beyond the sector.

"In preparing this, I have enjoyed fascinating conversations with college leaders, representatives and policy-makers, as well as experts in transformation from other sectors – whose insight I have found incredibly useful in testing further education norms.

"I hope that colleagues find this report interesting and of some use in considering how to transform colleges in an operating environment which shows no sign of being anything other than desperately challenging.

"I have drafted the piece in the first person, sharing something of myself as I go, because further education is personal for those who work in it – and so is leadership."

Chapter One: The further education operating context is incredibly tough / The introduction of T levels

Chapter Two: College performance compared to other sectors

Chapter Three: The 5 causes of poor performance in FE

Chapter Four: Seven lenses of transformation for FE / FE Can Learn From The Success Of Other Sectors

Chapter Five: Good Strategy Is Crucial For FE Transformation / Policy Cycle Blights FE: Colleges Leaders Should Chart Their Own Course

Chapter Six: How to unleash the talent already in your college / Aligning organisational purpose, strategy and transformation priorities with available funding 

Chapter Seven: Leading the transformation in FE

Conclusion: Government knows what effective improvement intervention in the education sector looks like: Its failure to do so in FE is a choice

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