On further eduction and leading
Further education is a Rubik’s cube of a thing, adept at dealing with colourful twists, turns and about-turns in policies, purses, politicians and partners.
This is how leadership life is lived when you work in FE and Skills, the adaptive layer of the English education system. Schools, quite rightly, are compulsory, and protected by the law. Universities are selective, quite rightly, and protected by the Queen via royal charter. FE has none of those protections, is available to serve and, so, is the first place to which governments, of all colours, turn when they have to make quick changes with direct impact. This sector is much more accessible to changes in the political weather and is much more sensitively located in relation to the shifting social and economic environment. Its leaders are required to deliver continuous, sometimes rapid, change, to think differently, and for themselves, as society and the economy shift and our communities seek to adapt.
Not all do it well, or even adequately, but the best are brilliant at it. Think of the swift move in the 1990s from delivering apprenticeships to developing social inclusion in a time of high unemployment – done and dusted within a year, though with high costs and known casualties. Today, the sector is engaged in a modern version of the nineties change, this time in reverse, and developing the next generation of itself. So it is in our world and thus is our mutable nature. Leading this mutability and mutuality requires a particular set of capabilities and knowledge.