The vice principal role is now increasingly complex

11 Dec 2021, 6:44

The vice principal is expected to have multiple competencies but rarely gets enough development, writes Rhys Davies

The role of vice principal often covers responsibility for curriculum and quality. It has always been complex, requiring leaders to spin numerous plates at once. 

Now, the nature of these challenges has evolved. Vice principals may have had  time to reflect on the landscape and think what it may mean for them over the next two to three years.  

They will need to help the nation rise to the challenges that lie ahead, and preparing young people and adults for a transformed skills and labour market will be high on their priority lists. 

At the same time, they will also need to consider other prevailing and emerging issues that will impact on curriculum.

This includes the drive towards an environmentally sustainable future, addressing the consequences of increasing urbanisation and technological and demographic change, and the constant need to maintain high quality standards. 

An inclusive, decolonised and diverse curriculum is also an important feature for leaders to get properly to grips with. 

Meanwhile, the government’s Skills for Jobs white paper, published in January 2021, provides vice principals and other leaders with a framework for how this pans out.

It is clear that relationships with industry and other partners will be fundamental – whether they are focused on collaboration and curriculum co-creation, networking, or ensuring that the curriculum is future-proofed by close liaison with companies leading technological advances. 

So, curriculum and quality leaders will be vital to UK’s Covid recovery, but are they ready to meet the evolving challenge?

Professor David Greatbatch at York University and independent consultant Sue Tate summarised the situation well in their joint government document, “Teaching, Leadership and Governance in Further Education in 2018”. 

It reveals that senior leaders are expected to have a sound understanding of pedagogy, knowledge of how best to secure high-quality outcomes, be astute in managing budgets and sources of income and possess considerable awareness of the driving forces behind curriculum design. 

Little wonder, then, in a publication this year entitled “Teachers and Leaders in Vocational Education and Training”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development points to the need for high-quality and ongoing professional development for leaders of curriculum and quality. 

It reads: “While leaders in VET require multiple competences to carry out their diverse responsibilities, many of them are not well prepared before taking up their role, and might not receive the support they need throughout their career in terms of mentoring and professional development.” 

That need for ongoing professional development is echoed by college leaders in England. They recognise that today’s senior leaders must be able to access bespoke, high-quality CPD and mentoring.  

They point to the increased complexity of decision-making in recent years and warn that, without support, there is an intrinsic danger of siloed and prescriptive solutions that fail to achieve the needed outcomes. 

There is a danger of prescriptive solutions

Responding to this need and the views of senior figures across the sector, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) is creating a new programme of support it believes will offer crucial support to senior leaders. It is called Strategic Innovation for Skills.

The first cohort will be delivered via residential stays, a conference and online workshops between January 7 and March 31. The cost is met by the participant’s institution.

It will help participants learn from effective practice both within the UK and overseas, showcasing innovative pedagogy and thinking around quality improvement.

It will also develop leaders’ networking and collaborative skills, which are vital for building close relationships with employers and other stakeholders.  

Feedback from senior leaders while the programme has been developed has been positive.

Moreover, it is designed specifically for those senior colleagues, such as vice principals, who are often reluctant to prioritise their own needs in the face of the many urgent, competing demands they must deal with. 

Its creation is an investment both in those individuals and the wider sector at a time when there are so many expectations being placed

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