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Challenge is to find the best trainees for future

The deputy chief executive of the AoC, Sue Dutton, assesses the new leadership college

One of the greatest challenges we face today is getting the right people to come forward to train as tomorrow's leaders. We do not do so in isolation.

Look at FE leadership in the broader context and we see a whole range of initiatives: the NHS University, developments in police and defence and, of course, the National College for School Leadership. It is all part of the Government push towards excellence in management and leadership across business and in the public sector.

The FE leadership college, due to start next April, is another element in that drive to spread good practice across both sectors. The recent report of the Council for Excellence in Leadership sets out the Government's strategy for this, stressing that it is as important for public-sector organisations as it is for the private sector. It supports our view that we need inspirational leaders for innovation, creativity and value for money.

FE could see itself walking a well-trodden path with all these other initiatives. There are similarities and we should not dissociate ourselves from what others are doing. Indeed, we benefit from other sectors. The report this week by the Hay Group confirms that leaders in FE compare very well with those in the best of private enterprise, both in terms of styles of leadership and in the organisational climate in which they perform.

What Hay also shows is how much more challenging the climate is in colleges compared with industry. The challenges facing FE are set out in the four key demands of the Government's consultation paper Success for All. It is about:

* meeting needs to improve choice for learners;

* developing the teachers and learners for the future;

* putting teaching and learning at the heart of what we do;

* developing a framework for quality and success.

To achieve these, the new leadership college must take the best of management development practices - from colleges and the wider world - and shape them to meet those four standards. The Association of Colleges has a representative interest but it is also part of a consortium seeking to have an influence over the college. We want to be part of any team that wins the bid to manage and lead it.

The skills most pertinent to college leaders today are aptly defined by Professor Rob Goffee of the London Business School in the latest IPD Personnel Management magazine. He sets out key qualities of truly inspirational leaders. They must:

* understand their weaknesses and be prepared to show them;

* rely on their ability to sense the needs of different situations and adjust to them;

* show empathy with others and care about what they do;

* know why they are distinctive and different.

College leaders have to be chameleons in responding to and leading people with so many different needs.

The leadership college must be an umbrella to draw together good practice. It needs to recognise the work being done by organisations such as the Learning and Skills Development Agency and, with the Further Education National Training Organisation, identify management and leadership demands and plan in advance.

The college must work in close collaboration with the NHS and schools to exchange ideas and resources.

Most of all, it needs to be managed by the sector and be inclusive - not an exclusive club.

We must use our best leaders now to prepare new people to come forward. They are absolutely critical in terms of monitoring and coaching the next generation of leaders.

These more informal mechanisms are just as important as qualifications. While we support more qualifications, we have problems with them being compulsory because by definition we want people to take charge of their own learning.

We also need career paths for those who don't fit into management jobs, for example good teachers, and we want them to be able to pass on expertise and knowledge to a wider audience. The national college will have to find imaginative ways to reinforce this.

Sue Dutton was interviewed by Ian Nash

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