So you’re a leader in FE for the first time ever?

28 Sep 2022, 6:00

Leadership courses are often focused on schools or are too costly. To develop as a leader, collaborate and listen hard to your staff, writes Jonny Kay

Among those FE staff heading into 2022-23 with a mix of excitement and nervousness will be those who have become leaders for the first time.

Many new leaders will be taking up roles and so our attention turns to the support, guidance and training they will need.

Much like those entering initial teacher training, new leaders can expect to work with a mentor, complete a statutory induction and work to identify their own developing needs.

But what support is available outside of their new role?

Well, over the last year, the national professional qualifications have been relaunched. They are now less focused on specific roles and more focused on leadership and development of teaching and learning, behaviour and culture.

These qualifications are excellent and they are funded, but there remains a clear focus on primary and secondary school settings, leading many to ask: what is available for FE leaders?

Of course, there are opportunities available and the Education and Training Foundation has a range of courses for new, aspiring and current middle and senior leaders.

But these courses can be costly, too broad in content or unavailable until numbers are confirmed.

As a result, there remains a lack of FE-focused leadership training opportunities. But why is it so important to have FE focused leadership development?

To start with, FE remains the most truly diverse sector, and leaders are tasked with managing and leading that diversity at all stages.

They must handle staffing, induction, finance and budgeting, progression, timetabling, recruitment, retention, managing achievement, apprenticeships, higher education and adult provision.

Some of this simply does not exist in primary and secondary settings (or they do so at a significantly reduced level. Middle leaders in FE regularly manage 50 or more staff and a budget in the millions of pounds).

As a result, the generic elements of leadership (delegation, clear communication, curriculum intent, managing teams) are very different as there are so many variables to manage, mitigate against and consider.

So, what can new leaders do to continue their development in FE?

The answer to this is collaboration.

Network with both new and experienced leaders

By collaborating and networking with new and experienced leaders within and outside of your own setting, there is the opportunity to share best practice and discuss new strategies to resolve age-old problems.

It is also important to accept that failure is inevitable. There is no such thing as a perfect leader, so it is vital to accept that you will make mistakes.

This is why it is so important to identify and work with a mentor and a coach – they perform different roles but will become equally as important.

Both will give feedback which will allow you to develop effectively, as will your team: giving regular feedback opportunities to your team will help to shape what leader you become.

Remember that effective leaders speak last. Seek to communicate, open a dialogue and gain feedback from your team as they will give you the richest feedback on the impact you have. Good leaders communicate – ineffective leaders broadcast.

Feedback is important. Seek it always: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

The simplest method for improving leadership is to consult the literature. Read. Broadly and often.

Books from inside and outside of education will provide a host of approaches; whether Sir Alex Ferguson’s Leading, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why or Mary Myatt’s High Challenge, Low Threat, each will signpost transferrable skills and ideas to support the steps you want to take.

No matter the preparation or training undertaken by a new leader, it’s important to remember that what is out there is support only. You must find your own leadership style and find what works for you.

Like anything, this can take time. In the coming months, new leaders will strive to be different things for different people, dealing with innumerable new challenges using a range of leadership models and styles.

To do this successfully, authentic leadership is key.

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