“What if FE had a transfer window?” asks Dr Sam Parrett.

15 Sep 2019, 5:00

Could the football transfer process work in the regulated world of FE? It’s worth a try, says Sam Parrett

Watching my husband glued to the TV for 24 hours during the last few days of the football transfer window made me think about how different further education might be if our employment law framework was similar to that of a football club.

The football transfer process, with its last-minute medical checks and signings, are usually a twice-yearly marital endurance test in the Parrett household. But last month we were on a cruise around the Baltics and Scandinavia, and an interesting debate took place about the wage bills, transfer costs, strengths and weaknesses of players, teams and the future prospects as the new season began.

As an FE principal who came up through the human resources route, I began to wonder what lessons we could learn for my sector.

In football, high-performing players are transferred to different clubs to strengthen their forward or defensive teams. How could that translate in FE? Could we have a more open culture where staff were able to change jobs more easily during “transfer windows”? If we had flexibility over salaries and the ability to pay our highest-performing staff more, recognising and rewarding them for exceptional performance as they do in football, a market-led model might improve retention and outcomes.

Similarly, just as football players are loaned to other clubs, could we send staff out on loan, or perhaps a secondment, to another college to broaden their skills and experience and add strength and experience to weaker organisations? Or maybe allow free transfers – in the same way that football clubs transfer a player out or recruit a free transfer on a swap basis.

Imagine if we principals could talk to each other in the same way; for example, if our demand for English and maths teachers is reducing at a time when we need business lecturers. Could we approach a neighbouring college with a reverse problem and, through consultation and negotiation with the individuals concerned, transfer staff so that each college has the staff with the right expertise?

Senior management could swap roles to support career development.

The benefits are not just the obvious reductions in employment agency and placement fees, but also to staff and organisational development.

The similarities between the world of football and FE include league tables, constant press speculation and regulatory interference.

The possibility of a more dynamic and voluntary arrangement with genuine brokering and movement of staff, cooperation between colleges, college groups and even schools could be hugely beneficial to individuals and local communities.

We could see less restructuring and redundancy through better brokerage of employment at a local level and more stability in our backyard. This sort of collaboration and brokerage system within and across the sector could even work at principal level, giving senior management the opportunity for role swaps to support career development, such as deputies trying out the principal role.

As I pondered this approach while watching a sunset, I also considered the potential drawbacks: the manager and player commodity market is much more transient and less stable than the employment protection and security of our current employment terms and conditions. For example there would also be a risk of pay costs escalating, although this is something we could control in a more dynamic market environment.

It’s an idea worth trying. So I’m throwing down the gauntlet to see if anyone else would like to join my college in seeing if we can create a more dynamic systems-led approach to staff recruitment that helps our staff development too.

Latest education roles from

Youth Worker

Youth Worker

Merton College

Meet and Greet Assistant

Meet and Greet Assistant

Barnet and Southgate College

Lecturer – Electrical Installation

Lecturer – Electrical Installation

Merton College

Business Development Consultant

Business Development Consultant

Barnsley College

Lunchtime Supervisor

Lunchtime Supervisor

Lightwoods Primary Academy

Apprentice Development Leader

Apprentice Development Leader

GP Strategies

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Prof Bill Wardle

    Just a couple of immediate responses to an interesting piece:

    1 The football market is ‘defined’ by the activities of agents. They dictate the scale of transfer fees, the pace/velocity of the market et. Notwithstanding hefty commission. Do current agencies for staffing become the new agents/commodity brokers? That led on to my second point;

    2 The ownership of players/lecturers. There are options to the current system of college ‘ownership’ eg third part ownership, even by a private company (it’s not a far cry from the current activities of high profile agencies for contract staff) or centralised ‘public/government’ ownership. Corbynistas might like it/see it as ‘nationalisation’. It is a centralised model, a civil service of lecturers if you like, but despite its apparent rigidity it would enable deployment/mobility possibly easier than a pure market model.

  2. Philip Gorst

    When we set up our business 25 years ago we were primarily delivering a ‘customer service/business admin’ model, to existing clients that we had developed over our first two years..
    Now, we offer a wide range of qualifications and training from food manufacture to health and safety, learning and development, management qualifications and the like.
    There are two of us in the business – as there always were. The secret? We have constantly reinvested our earnings into our own skills development, so that we can offer a wider range of learning opportunities.
    So, instead of blowing the budget on recruitment agencies, why not create a clear skills path for your staff?
    Is a management trainer (say) always going to do the same job? What about the motivation of this person? Are they motivated by the pension, someway down the line? Is this impacting upon programme delivery and outcomes?

    It used to be called ‘multi-tasking’ back in the day, but does this merit a thought? It would be a lot cheaper and better management, in my view, to develop embedded staff rather than shuffling them off to a strange and challenging environment that may not be as easy a commute, where they would lose trusted support and have to be the ‘new kid in class’.

    I can see the idea and it’s merits, but it’s people we are talking about, and it does not necessarily guarantee that a good performer in one team is a good or better performer in another.

    The football transfer history tells us that are more failures than successes. I’m a Man U fan, and I could draw up a long list!