Oustanding teaching and learning is back at the centre of leadership focus – which is where it should be, says Lynne Sedgmore

Leadership in colleges constantly receives attention. It almost has become a cliche to say that excellence in all aspects of an organisation is dependent ultimately upon the quality of its leadership.

Of course there is a correlation, but when I first came into FE as a lecturer my teaching and student learning experience was so remote from that of college leaders that they had no impact, for better or worse, on my students — or me. Luckily, all that has changed.

Leadership trends ebb and flow. Post incorporation we needed financial leaders; then, as the focus went too far away from the curriculum and student standards were questioned, the clarion call became the need for leaders with curriculum and teaching experience.

Leadership of quality then entered our parlance as we led our colleges on total quality management (TQM) and quality kite marks; then customer service dominated and the leader as communicator, marketeer and stakeholder manager filled our leadership intrays.

Amid all this, we had to be transformational, have many competencies as well as magnificent qualities, be effective change agents, performing artists and cheer leaders. We had to be trustworthy, authentic and approachable while simultaneously ensuring outstanding results and 100 per cent student, staff and employer satisfaction.

Oh, and I forgot, we all now have to be entrepreneurial leaders; to lead with ever–diminishing finances to higher standards, to be at the leading edge or centre of our locality systems and ecosystems.

I need a lie down just thinking about it all, never mind having to live it on a daily basis.

Having been a senior leader in FE since 1984, a leadership developer since 2008 and a member of the Prime Minister’s review of all public sector leadership in 2009, I have been fascinated by the holy grail of leadership, which seems to harbour as many questions as it does answers, and as many different approaches as there are leaders.

The Centre for Educational Leadership was successful because it listened to what the sector wanted, putting learning and learners at the heart of its leadership mission and developing a wide range of more than 30 different services to suit every leader and every college.

Nearly 40,000 leaders travelled voluntarily through the centre’s services in a four–year period.

So what will be the next steps for leadership, post the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS)?

If I am to have only one wish from the leadership fairy godmother, it is for sector leaders to become highly skilled, exquisite leaders of teaching and learning excellence. The 157 Group, supported strongly by LSIS, has identified a range of actions and themes for leaders to bring about such excellence.

Leadership is a serious business. It really does matter how leaders lead. But, as with every profession, there is also a simplicity at the heart of everything that we do. For colleges into the future, this simplicity has to be primarily that the core focus of all leadership has to be about outstanding teaching and learning, and about leaders being expert in and conscious of how and when to create the ‘right’ environment for learners and staff to flourish to their maximum potential.

Consistently spoken rhetoric, maybe, but we are only beginning to articulate systematically the answers needed to ensure outstanding teaching and learning throughout every layer and aspect of our colleges, and to find real and grounded solutions.

I recommend the work of 157 in this arena, and I recommend a new publication, soon to be launched, sharing the excellent work of Highbury College in Portsmouth.

I look forward also to being a key partner with the the FE Guild to ensure that leadership excellence and the leadership of excellent teaching and learning continues to be a top priority within the sector.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group and former chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership