Warning on principals’ ‘understanding’ of chief exec role

A report that warned dual role college principals might not “understand” their chief executive duties has been welcomed by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

The report, A New Conversation: Employer and College Engagement, by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), The 157 Group and Gazelle questioned such principals’ knowledge of what their chief executive role entailed.

It noted that “many college principals use ‘chief executive’ in their title and when questioned described how they saw themselves having two distinct roles: the academic leader and the business leader.”

It continued: “We wondered whether more is needed to understand what being a business leader means in this context.”

Stephan Jungnitz, ASCL college specialist, said the paper was “a very welcome addition to the national debate on how we address the increasing need for vocational education and training”.

“Within the paper it is recognised that colleges have a pivotal role to play and that employers often need better information about how they can capitalise on these opportunities,” he said.

The information in the 24-page report was compiled through a series of interviews, an online survey, workshops and college visits over the last 12 months.

It said: “Not surprisingly leadership came out as the most important ingredient in a college’s ability to contribute to and drive economic growth.”

It also covered the role of governors, saying: “Governors make a range of contributions to the leadership of a college but we believe that there is more that can be gained, especially from those governors that come directly from the business world.

“Effective business governors can help colleges understand local business needs in much more depth, and, using their networks, spread the word among employers about how colleges contribute to the local economy.

“They bring clarity about direction, targets, priorities and expectations, challenging managers on what employer engagement really means in practice.”

It further made recommendations for future leadership development programmes, such as those currently being developed through Education and Training Foundation, saying they should aim to increase market understanding.

John Cridland, UKCES Commissioner and director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “Building stronger bonds between colleges and employers is no easy task, but with the launch of this new paper we hope to initiate a wider discussion and create a better future for all.

“By forging more links between local colleges and firms in their area, we can help ensure that colleges produce students with the skills and characteristics employers need to thrive.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of The 157 Group, said: “We hope this seminal report will radically shift and improve employer and college strategic conversation and partnerships.

“We know how important it is to expand the good work already being done as well as supporting colleges to play an even more powerful role in local enterprise partnerships and localities.”

The report, published on Tuesday, April 29, and available on the UKCES website, further identified “discussion topics,” including the importance of the college in contributing to its economic community, and the need for employers to be familiar with the college and its offer.


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  1. Mark Collinson

    There will be some Principal’s whose role this dual title fits well with. However, there are others for whom the title is more to do with keeping up appearances and the deadly egotistical manager.

  2. How does this shift in the role of Principals influence the recruitment of future leaders?

    As for the broader question of leadership in general, how will governors gain the accountability needed (FE Commissioner report) to make sound judgements on those positions?