Why educational excellence should be an end in itself.

17 Sep 2019, 5:00

Grappling with new political strategies takes precious time and resources, so we should stay focused on the quest for the best education

Part of the lifecycle of any organisation is to revisit the strategic plan, reconsider the vision, rethink the mission and ponder the values and culture required to keep moving forward. If the current political climate can teach us anything, it is surely how important it is to take this work seriously.

Yet the current zeitgeist is that vision and mission are old hat, and organisational purpose is where it’s at. But if we allow excellence to become a means rather than an end, do we stand to lose more than we realise?

Institutional leaders grapple with the development of new strategies and plans, and that is hard enough in itself. But the continual work of seeking to tie these in with the latest direction in government policy or industry trend – be it employability, wealth creation, social cohesion or economic rejuvenation – is as thankless as it is intensive, and it is not clear that it leads to real, sustained progress.

The problem with this approach is that policy in the world of further education and skills moves as quickly as social change, and not always in the same direction.

Trying to align one’s organisational strategy and vision to reflect the hot political issue of the day runs the risk of losing sight of what really matters.

Current thinking would suggest that educational excellence is a means to an end, namely the creation of a highly-skilled workforce that will aid the productivity of UK Plc. But what about seeing the provision of educational excellence as an end in itself for every person in our organisation, from learners’ experiences to staff CPD?

The mission of achieving excellence seems an impossible and nebulous one, but it outlives the vast majority of the policy fancies that come and go.

It can aid organisational stability, keep staff focused and enable leadership teams to develop clear and identifiable purpose that can be effectively communicated to others. For that to happen, we must define our own excellence as a sector, and as organisations.

Placing our primary focus on high-quality education as an end in itself means our provision becomes wholly inclusive by default – as relevant to Learners with Learning Difficulties or Disabilities (LLDD) as to higher education students.

Putting educational excellence front and centre also avoids questionable debates as to why certain provision is offered, because the question is no longer one of short-term decision-making but of breadth and depth of curriculum.

We must define our own excellence as a sector.

It secures the confidence of staff in what they are delivering, and provides a very clear set of principles that everyone can get behind.

Striving to provide our learners with the best possible educational opportunities has obvious benefits. An educational climate focused on building and enhancing learner confidence can only result in a strong local and national reputation for the college. Teaching and mentoring that support employability skills in young people and adults ensures that employers’ needs are met.

And if reputation and impact aren’t enough, high-calibre educational providers in the FE sector can also reap benefits through strengthening learner numbers, new and profitable relationships with employers and attracting the highest-performing staff.

Educational excellence as a means to other ends – that are never truly under our control – is a recipe for instability. It leaves us at the mercy of others’ priorities, policies and pet projects, chasing often-unattainable goals.

With a general election looming, we face the prospect of new ministerial faces and new policy ideals. By keeping our eyes on the prize of educational excellence, by embracing it as the reward in itself, our college-level strategies can remain constant amidst the policy turbulence and prove a true enabler of organisational resilience, success and prosperity.

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