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Editor's comment

That South Cheshire college should find itself listed among the best 100 companies to work for in the UK comes as welcome light relief at a time when much of further education continues to resemble an industrial battleground.

Of course, the college's staff, whose own testimonies were the basis on which it was judged, will no doubt be pleased that they are paid more than the national average at a time when their colleagues elsewhere continue to feel disgruntled and undervalued when they open their pay packets each month.

But they also commented positively on the college's style of leadership - a vote of confidence for a principal, David Collins, who knows where he wants to take his institution and believes in bringing his staff with him.

Under his command, the college continues to be the inspectors' favourite, being ranked the best in the country by the Office for Standards in Education.

South Cheshire's position as the golden boy of FE is not just about what it has done but also what it has avoided doing.

Like any good business person, Mr Collins has been clear about what his organisation can do well and what it can improve upon. The rest he has wisely avoided doing altogether, which is why the increased flexibility programme, the Government's initiative to place 14 to 16-year-olds on college courses, finds no place at his college.

He is clear about what "college" means to teenagers - a place where they are treated like adults - and he understands the damage that can be done to the brand by blurring the line between school and post-16 education. He is also clear that increased flexibility is the financial responsibility of schools and local education authorities, and he does not wish to fund it with money intended for post-16 education.

Other principals have happily funded increased flexibility with one hand while holding the other out to the Treasury for adult education and lecturers' pay - items they presumably regard as second-priority.

Being overtaken by events and outside pressures in this way is not compatible with the principal's role as chief executive of a multi-million-pound business.

Principals must take the risk of following their convictions. As the schools bill puts colleges under more pressure to be distracted from their core purpose, the message is simple. Look after your staff, stick to what you do well and, when the Government invites you to take part in ill-thought-out, under-funded initiatives, just say no.

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