Commissioner points at leadership hitting staff morale

FE commissioner Dr David Collins criticised leadership styles at two colleges and said staff morale was being hit, his newly-released findings have shown.

Dr Collins was appointed last year to investigate colleges issued with notices of financial concern, inadequate Ofsted ratings or which failed to meet standards set by the government.

But summaries of Dr Collins’s findings at eight of the 10 colleges visited so far have only just been published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Most of the summaries focus on financial concerns and issues around quality of teaching, but in documents about Lesoco, in South London, and City of Liverpool College, Dr Collins called for a change in management style.

In the Liverpool summary, Dr Collins said: “The ‘command and control’ model adopted by the present senior management team has brought about many positive changes but there has been a cost. Good staff members have felt under threat and a number whose skills would have benefitted the college as it moves forward have left. A change of style will be needed if the college wishes to achieve its full potential.”

And on Lesoco, he said: “Attention also needs to be paid to reducing the unusually high levels of discontent evidenced by significant numbers of staff and middle managers. A change of style will be needed if the college wishes to achieve its full potential and avoid the risk of staff dissatisfaction impacting on learner success.”

Both visits were triggered by Ofsted grade four results, but leadership and management at Lesoco was given a grade three result while leadership at the Liverpool college recently improved to grade three.

Nevertheless, his focus on leadership was defended by Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) president and former Lewisham College principal Dame Ruth Silver. She said: “The commissioner is right to shine a spotlight on leadership style because the lives of others depend on it.

“His role is two-fold, firstly, to show to the individual institution the flaws that are damaging it and others and secondly to pass on to the sector as a whole , the findings from the investigations in order to avoid further decay in standards.

“However, how it is done needs to take account of impact and intention to improve matters.”

A spokesperson at City of Liverpool College said: “The commissioner gave us credit for the positive steps we are taking here, commenting particularly on us having the right leadership team in place.”

Nobody from Lesoco was available for comment. However, new principal Ioan Morgan said this month: “We must ensure that leadership at all levels in the college focuses on high-quality teaching and learning. This is our core business.”

Publication of the commissioner’s reports was welcomed by 157 Group chief executive Dr Lynne Sedgmore, who said other colleges could learn “valuable lessons”.

She said: “It is important to recognise the incredibly tough demands and financial stringencies currently being placed on leaders, teachers and support staff.

“Most are doing valiant work to ensure the highest standards for our learners and the majority of colleges are doing incredibly well under the circumstances.

“Having said that we will always learn from and support as best we can colleges that do run into difficulties.”

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  1. Anonymous

    It seems to me that Leadership and Management is judged purely off the back of other indicators and not in its own right. If a provider’s results and finances look good, a ‘Command and Control’ style of management escape criticism, and indeed will be praised. However the effect is exacly the same as that described here: ‘”..Good staff members have felt under threat and a number whose skills would have benefitted the college as it moves forward have left. A change of style will be needed if the college wishes to achieve its full potential.”’

    This description equally applies to some colleges judged as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, however I have yet to see any significant scrutiny of the style of Leadership and Management from Ofsted if a provider’s ‘KPIs’ look ok.

    Maybe that’s the point though – if a Leadership and Management style gets results I’m not convinced there is any real scrutiny of the HOW. Inconsistent and subjective judgements from Ofsted are hardly new. Maybe the FE Commissioner will bring some much needed scrutiny of the quality of Leadership and Management across the sector, but I won’t hold my breath…

  2. shirtandtie

    I am one of the ‘victims’ of the poor management style highlighted by the commissioner and his comments are no surprise to me or my former colleagues, yet the college in question is still in denial that there is a problem.

    What is surprising is the common thread of concerns over the financial management of the colleges inspected. To be fair to my former employer these problems have not been entirely of their making, and whilst it might be argued that they should have managed the problems more effectively I think there is a wider story if they are not the only college to find themselves in difficulty in this regard.

  3. FELecturer

    Well done Dr Collins for recognising that the ‘command and control’ model adopted by the senior management was hitting staff morale in this case. In fact this is a much wider problem and it is happening at many FE colleges.

    The quality of senior management at FE colleges, who often have vice principals for every area, is often poor and their recruitment rarely follows the equality and diversity procedures they talk about.

    • RateMYcollege

      I absolutely agree – we seem to have more ‘slick career minded’ business people as middle management that are not educationalists haven’t come up the through the ranks so to speak , just super administrators who tend to pander to similar account minded vice principals that only appear to see people as units. (Staff and students). The senior mangers from our college would not know what low staff moral was if you painted it in letters 10 ft. tall on their houses, which in my opinion is due to their lack of emotional intelligence. They appear to be completely divorced from the teaching staff and tend not to share the same enthusiasm when students do well. What is also quite perverse, is when senior management positions become available, you only tend to find out when they have been filled by (The) suitable person, this is usually when HR ‘suspend the equality process’ as it gets in the way when they are looking to convince staff that they have gone through a proper equalities process. Then when no one is looking, “Oh.. We’ve found it again”!

  4. Ratemycollege you are right. Any manager who does not fit this soulless profile leaves. This is the case in Liverpool even an Assistant Principal resigned. Ironically the work she did controuted to some of the best improvements for the re-inspection.

    • Disgruntled

      Yes “anon” is right. In The City of Liverpool College (ex Liverpool Community College)the best of the Assistant Principals in a new structure resigned pretty damn quick & returned to her former college quick-smart.

      It is a matter of public record that the new management regime appointed 4 Assistant Principals & approximately 16-18 new Heads of School (some internal appointments, some new externals). In one area (CITY 6) 4 out of 5 of the original Heads of School appointed resigned / left / were moved sideways etc. Overall about 7 or 8 Heads of School resigned / left / were moved sideways. Plus of course the Director of HR, the Head of Pastoral Support, the Finance Director etc etc etc…

      The college mantra (which has been slavishly followed by Ofsted, to its shame) is that people have move on (“managed out” seems to be the weasel worded way of describing the destruction of professional lives.

      The reality is that the current leadership of The City of Liverpool College have a bunker mentality; they despise their own staff; they abhor the former community focused ethos of the college in favour of entrepreneurial initiatives; and they are content to take astonishingly high salaries from the public purse to progress their neoliberal agenda. They have fostered a toxic atmosphere for staff; they have overseen the loss of talented managers and lecturers. The was a unanimous vote of no confidence in the SMT by both UCU and UNISON members some months ago – it was completely ignored. The FE Commissioner speculates that this this was just about issues with redundancies – he needs to look again.

      In the very near future, at the rate we are going, the last person to have any commitment to community based further education will have to turn out the light at The City of Liverpool College.

  5. Local paper in Liverpool announces Principal of College received massive pay rise following inadequate Ofsted grade, failure rewarded with £40,000 rise.