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Sir Frank McLoughlin


A powerful new partnership for the sector is growing and developing, says Sir Frank McLoughlin CBE

In the spring of 2017 we were thrilled to announce a prestigious new partnership for the FE sector. The ETF appointed the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford to be our partner in the delivery of a world-class Strategic Leadership Programme for college Principals.

The first cohort of participants is now approaching the end of its programme with a second residential to consolidate development work to date and to set a direction for future work. Four other cohorts, bringing the total participation to around 100 Principals and CEOs, are still in progress. Feedback to date has been excellent.

Joe Docherty, CEO of the Newcastle College Group, has said that the programme compares favourably with his time spent at Harvard Business School. “The tutor groups have been one of the highlights of the programme. There is a chance to build new relationships, do project work collectively and we have made the time to continue the experience of the residential. There has been wonderful space to reflect and to help me think more clearly about my role and about what is right and wrong.”

“What’s impressed me is how this programme has brought together senior leaders in FE to think about what it means to be a leader in this immensely prestigious centre.”

The emphasis is on developing the individual as a leader and then enabling them to carry that development through into the effectiveness of their whole organisation.

Nick Juba, Principal of Greater Brighton Metropolitan College, told me: “The impact of the first residential was significant, giving me an opportunity to focus my time on the significant challenges. I am also now very resolute on how to take staff with me as I address the cultural challenges of a merged college – and am much more comfortable with ambiguity and feel able to say, “I don’t know.” My experience is affecting the whole senior leadership culture.”

Dr Elaine Heslop, Director of Custom Executive Education at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, said: “Oxford Saïd is delighted to be partnering with the ETF to co-design and deliver this important new programme in their growing portfolio of leadership development and capability building programmes. We see the collaborative design and development process as being key to creating a learning experience that will provide the right blend of technical and leadership skills to take high potential leaders within the sector to the next level. The programme focuses on creating resilience and agility at the level of the individual, their organisations and the sector as a whole. Our partnership with the ETF extends and deepens our mutual aspiration to generate public value within the communities we both serve as educators.” 

We are living in a period when new demands on FE leaders have multiplied rapidly. FE is now at the heart of the Government’s new industrial strategy, commitment to social mobility and meeting the accelerated skills challenges posed by Brexit. Meeting these challenges means investing in developing leaders in the sector could not be more integral to the future of individual colleges and UK plc.

While we have to always address the needs of today, tomorrow is never far away. In my experience, when there are changes at the top without effective succession planning, or individuals who can take over the reins seamlessly, there can be an unsettling effect on a college or training provider.

As I write, 40 per cent of Principals are over 55. Only four per cent are over 60, as that is when most will retire. It is therefore pressing that we identify and prepare their successors. The ETF, in partnership with the DfE and the University of Oxford is currently developing a new programme, starting in March, for senior leaders across FE to prepare the future generation to become a Principal or CEO within the next two years.

It will combine the development of the technical expertise required by any leader, with unparalleled opportunities for reflection, personal development and networking with fellow professionals in one of the world’s leading business schools.

Developing the leaders of the future will provide the stability, confidence and ambition needed for the sector and I was delighted to see how well the programme was received by the sector at last year’s Association of Colleges (AoC) conference.

Years of neglect of leadership training in the sector is now being reversed and I think this is a fantastic time to be planning for the future leadership of the sector. There are challenging but exciting times ahead for the sector and to make the most of them we need to prepare the next generation of skilled and visionary leaders.

The lasting legacy for participants, apart from preparing them for their roles as future leaders, is that they will join an Alumni network of 1500+ members, from 43 countries. As part of the Alumni community of the Business school, they can continue to develop thought leadership and practice to benefit the whole sector.

This is a hugely valuable development for our sector and indicates that we are moving to centre stage for the first time in many years and taking control of our own destiny. We shall be keeping a close eye on the impact of the programme on its participants and their organisations over the coming months.

Sir Frank McLoughlin CBE is Associate Director for Leadership at the Education and Training Foundation.