A month of Fellowship, Mark Ravenhall

A month of Fellowship, Mark Ravenhall

24th October 2014

Since my last FETL blog I have been immersed in setting up our Fellowships programme. Given that FETL is new—and our ways of working innovative—it has been encouraging how many leaders, at all levels, have called me to talk through their research ideas.

It has been a real privilege to share colleagues’ thoughts, aspirations and concerns.  People are incredibly busy–and under immense pressure to deliver–but they still found the time to step out of the day job to discuss a possible Fellowship application.

Of course FETL was established because we believe that the ideas are ‘out there’ in the FE sector, they just need the time, space and nurturing to grow and have impact. If we are to meet the challenges of the future—and help build it—FE seriously needs the head space that other sectors enjoy.

This intent has been enthusiastically welcomed by the leaders I have spoken to. I know this group could be regarded in research terms as a ‘self-selecting sample’, but they have told me that it is rare to have a discussion amongst peers on the leadership of thinking. Time is the big constraint of course, and some brilliant ideas are unlikely to be taken forward due to learning providers unable to release staff. (Next time round perhaps!)

The majority of our Fellowship applications were for part-time ‘secondments’ out of the day job to pursue research interests. One of the difficulties there, as anyone who has ever spent a day at home trying to write a report will tell you, is making sure the day-to-day concerns of management don’t take over. Will your colleagues respect what you are doing? Will they think you are on some sort of jolly? Will they stop ringing you when you are on research leave and try to sort out the problem themselves? That sort of thing.

But aside from such quotidian concerns, there were the ideas. And they were worthy of exploration. Research topics discussed with me included: how to develop a college’s new strategic intent; how to lead a diversification strategy; the impact of the transformation of public services on community learning; collaborative leadership; comparing leadership cultures in health and FE; leading from the middle out; and many more.

Some people were seasoned researchers—there seem to be many people working in FE with doctorates or undertaking them—and some were clearly focused on the here and now. Leading quality improvement was a popular theme; as was the leadership implications for the introduction of new technologies. Some applications were perhaps better suited to be an organisational project than a Fellowship.  Join our mailing list if you would like to receive information on our Grants Programme to be launched mid-November.

For this first round of Fellowships, the majority of interest has been from general further education colleges, but we have also had interest from a small number of independent training providers, community learning, sixth form colleges, a third sector body and a trades union learning arm. We aim to broaden our reach when the next round of applications opens in the Spring of 2015.

FETL is encouraged that so many people want to work with us to develop the knowledge base in UK FE and skills. We are also pleased to see the announcement about the new Vocational Education Research Centre funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and this month’s Leadership Summit run by the Education and Training Foundation.

In my view you cannot have too many people looking into the future of FE and helping build it. It is in FE’s hands. The party conference season—this month’s other highlight—gave us very little steer about what government and opposition wants from FE apart from more apprenticeships. The first part of 2015, in the run up to the UK General Election, might see a hiatus in leadership at the heart of policy-making. Perhaps it is the job of FE to step confidently into that space. And perhaps this is where new thinking can help.

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