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Senior Leaders responsible for curriculum and quality will play a key role in meeting the challenges that lie ahead. What support will they need?

Janet Clark, Education and Training Foundation National Head of Leadership Development
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In its role as the national workforce development body for leaders in the Post-16 Further Education and Training sector, the Education & Training Foundation (ETF) has identified the need to provide professional development and support for senior leaders responsible for curriculum and quality.

Such leaders will play a huge role in helping post-16 providers to meet the skills needs of the UK economy over the next few years, and in managing the challenges and opportunities spelled out in the government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper.

What is the challenge?

Earlier this year, the ETF commissioned research into the viability and potential scope of such a CPD programme.

The research found that a programme of professional development would be welcomed by curriculum and quality leaders in helping them to successfully manage the complexity, breadth and responsibility of the role.

The research points to the challenges that lie ahead in managing the FE and Skills curriculum over the next five to ten years:

  • In the immediate term, leaders will need to respond to the uncertainties in the UK skills and labour markets caused by the Covid pandemic and Brexit. Leaders should have a close eye on the constant publication of intelligence and data regarding labour markets and use this to plan the curriculum. Knowledge of government-led initiatives to help upskill and retrain the workforce will help leaders to take advantage of the funding available when planning for their curriculum outcomes.
  • There are a number of issues which will need to be considered when planning and delivering the curriculum over the medium term, including: meeting the commitment to environmental sustainability and Green Energy; preparing workers for Industrial Revolution 4.0, with an accelerating trend towards the use of automation and Artificial Intelligence; addressing the implications of an ageing population and widening dependency ratios; increasing urbanisation, globalisation, widening inequality and political uncertainty; and last but by no means least, closing the skills gap in the UK labour market.
  • Curriculum leaders need to keep abreast of the direction of travel of government thinking; numerous reviews of the post-16 sector in recent years, culminating in the Skills for Jobs White Paper, provide leaders with a blueprint for upcoming trends and policy: the current drive towards working with employers in the design and delivery of the curriculum; the introduction of Local Skills Improvement Plans; the need to increase participation in high quality, Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs).
  • There is a plethora of information available to senior leaders which is helpful in strategically managing the curriculum. Knowing where to look, and finding data which supports strategic planning, is a challenge to senior leaders who have to manage the competing demands of ‘doing the day job’. Leaders need to balance developing an overview of global and national trends, with the detail behind local and regional skills and labour market needs.
  • Given the budgeting constraints that are anticipated in the short to medium term as the nation emerges from the Covid pandemic, it will be vital for curriculum leaders to possess an up-to-date understanding of the multiple and complex income streams associated with planning a post-16 curriculum.
  • Leaders responsible for quality should have a sound overview of the debates and issues and the research about what constitutes excellence in the teaching of vocational, technical and academic disciplines in the post-16 sector. Similarly, they should be familiar with the current thinking around digital learning and those organisations such as JISC which provide strategic thinking pieces in this area along with support and training for teachers.
  • Working collaboratively with peers across the sector helps ensure that best practice in the design and delivery of the curriculum can be shared. Much can be learnt from other outstanding and good providers. Leaders should know of proven approaches to managing quality improvement and quality assurance, and consider how best to adopt and hone those approaches to their own particular contexts.
  • Leaders of curriculum and quality are, first and foremost, leaders of people. As such, they need to be aware of how to develop a high-quality team and what works well, including the use of communities of professional practice, coaching and mentoring, and utilising ETF programmes to effectively develop the ‘Dual Professionalism’ aspect of the role of the vocational teacher.

Understanding the need

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently published research that looked at leadership in Vocational and Technical (VET) training and teaching.

The report makes a persuasive case that “to ensure VET leaders have the right skills to carry out their diverse responsibilities, they need to access specialised training before taking up their role, and to receive support throughout their career through mentoring and professional development.”

Given the pace of change and the emerging challenges, the need for training and mentoring for senior curriculum and quality leaders appears never to have been greater. According to members of a steering group convened by the ETF to guide the content of the CPD programme, that’s certainly the case.

Dr Paul Phillips100x100Dr Paul Phillips, CEO and Principal of Weston College and member of the steering group, explains:

“Further Education is subject to much change and senior leaders at tier two and above face exponential challenge in meeting significant challenges in both curriculum development and associated quality assurance. The VP/DP role is one that needs support at so many levels and it is most definitely not a case of one size fits all.

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“Today’s leaders and most senior managers must avail themselves of bespoke facilities including CPD and mentoring with a view to challenging and complementing strategies that ensure validity and impact. In the absence of such support there is an intrinsic danger of siloed and prescriptive solutions that fail to create the desired response.”

Another member of the steering group, Pauline Odulinski, a retired college principal and now a consultant and trainer, believes the pressures facing leaders in recent years may have exacerbated their need for high-quality CPD:

“The sector has faced unprecedented, fast-paced change over the past couple of years and this has resulted in making the prioritising of personal and professional development difficult. Senior leaders and managers are often reluctant to prioritise their own needs as there are so many urgent, competing demands on people, time and money.

“The current requirements with respect to decision-making have become even more complex than they were a couple of years ago. The huge responsibility to prioritise other people’s needs for education, health, well-being and safety, together with creating innovative, future-focused solutions to new challenges and implementing new, untried and untested fast-track systems to satisfy new requirements, leaves little time to consider personal development.”

Finding the solution

So, what might be the answer?

Pauline Odulinski believes that

“…the time is right for senior staff to consider the value and benefits they and their organisations will gain from engaging in a new personal and professional development programme. Building in time for reflective practice, thinking deeply about diverse issues and developing innovative and creative solutions in a safe, stimulating learning environment can lead to success both on a personal and organisational level and is a good investment.”

Taking that time will be crucial. The new programme will demand engagement from participants if they are to enjoy its benefits. But that engagement is an investment. It will support FE providers to develop long term strategies that will help their local communities to meet future skills needs and find solutions to global challenges, such as climate change and sustainability.

It will showcase innovative pedagogy and new thinking around improving quality, so that participants learn from effective practice both within the UK and overseas. And, crucially – given the obvious importance of working with employers and other stakeholders – it will develop participants’ skills in networking and collaboration.

Janet Clark, Education and Training Foundation National Head of Leadership Development

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Education, Work and leadership, Skills and apprenticeships, Featured voices

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