From education to employment

Many leadership development programmes are still haphazard and incoherent

I am writing this after six weeks as Interim CEO. Initially, I have had to concentrate on moving the organisation forwards to reach our goal of being fully operational by next April. In my personal blog I have talked quite a lot about the business processes and the progress we are making in recovering lost ground. So here I will cover some emerging wider thoughts, most of which are purely my own and have not been rehearsed with my team or the Foundation Board.

Leadership and Governance – There are a number of very good leadership development programmes and initiatives run by sector bodies and other organisations. However, quite a lot of it feels a bit haphazard and incoherent. What is missing is an overall strategy, framework or needs analysis, against which we can map current provision, identify the gaps and decide how best to fill those gaps.

I can almost hear gasps of ‘not again’ from many in the sector. But, without such an underpinning framework, we risk continuing to run good programmes without any real sense of how they fit into the bigger picture to meet the needs of the whole sector and not, for example, just those who engage willingly.

We must also ensure any development equips people for the future, even though we don’t really know what that is – few in the sector five years ago would have predicted the opportunities and challenges faced today. To balance this wider approach there is a demand for some immediate action to facilitate mentoring, coaching and shadowing opportunities, as a way of supporting a real thirst for personal development and we are trying to do something about this.

Good governance as a key enabler for successful providers is a given and has attracted high level political and sector impetus. A lot of ground work has been done for the various parts of the sector and we are moving into the implementation phase.

Professional standards and workforce development -This area covers lots of strands of work, but I’ll just mention two. The evidence for the urgent need to improve the maths and English core ability of many young learners and adults is overwhelming, although this is definitely not a new issue!

Supporting the political drive, we are working with the relevant bodies to roll out a Maths enhancement programme as a matter of urgency. Equally, I think it will be essential to monitor the impact at an early stage to ensure the programme does actually result in improved success rates. We might need to also take a more strategic view and consider sustainability of any initial success and make sure the approach is really the best way to achieve the step change needed. There are challenges, for example how do we ensure those that really do need to improve engage with the programme and, more importantly, it makes a difference?

Another key strand for us is around improving initial teacher training and getting new blood into the system. Isn’t this disappointing, as if we can’t get the ITT right how can we expect to improve the overall quality of the provision?

Vocational Education and Training (VET) – There is a good consensus about the overall direction of travel, ‘it’s all about work’. This includes a need for wider development of our people. My view is that it’s not rocket science (well most of it isn’t!) and the best providers already know what excellent vocational education means, how to deliver it and how to ensure they meet the needs of the employers, with many examples of amazing provider/employer linkages and use of technology.

So the trick now is to really spread good practice across the whole sector and this means making sure leaders, governors and directors know how their provider measures up against ‘best of breed’. The VET centre concept is a key, future enabler, but we must make it a genuine catalyst for improving VET, and that it doesn’t get high-jacked by any interest groups.

Last, but no means least, we must ensure that our work is underpinned by good and focussed research and that we concentrate on having a robust set of outcome based evaluation measures – easier said than done, as we are just one lever in a large machine, but if what we do doesn’t have an impact of the learner then why are we doing it?

Peter Davies is interim CEO of the Education and Training Foundation

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