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Ensuring financial viability of colleges is principals' top priority

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Ensuring their college’s financial viability is what college principals spend most time on, new research has found.

According to a survey by researchers at Warwick and Nottingham universities, college principals viewed ‘ensuring a college’s viability’ both as the leadership activity they devoted time to most frequently, and the one they viewed as most important.

“This is hardly surprising given the scale of the cuts being experienced by the sector,” the paper, due to be presented at the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (Belmas) conference this week, states.

Author Justine Mercer from the University of Warwick told TES that 94 per cent of FE principals questioned said they engaged in activities to safeguard that their college’s financial viability "very frequently", while only three per cent did so “quite often” and “occasionally”.

When asked about the importance of that activity, 100 per cent of principals said ensuring the college’s viability was “very important”, making it the most important of all.

“By comparison, the two items in joint second-place in terms of frequency were ‘using data to make decisions’ and ‘reporting to the governing body’,” said Dr Mercer, explaining that 85 per cent of principals engaged in these activities "very frequently" and 15 per cent "quite often".

The research finds that “by and large” there was a “high degree of overlap between the leadership activities principals devote the most time to and the things they deem most important”.

Peter Pendle, deputy general secretary of the ATL and chief executive of its management division AMiE, said: “Our experience is that more and more principals and senior post holders in colleges are spending more and more of their time focused on the financial issue of running their college, almost at the detriment of the curriculum.

“They are doing that because they are forced to do that because of the financial situation. That is what the survival of the college is based on.”

He said that if they failed to ensure financial viability, finding agencies and eventually the FE commissioner could get involved. He could think of three cases where this had happened, and resulted in the departure of the principal.

Mr Pendle added that a consequence of the focus on the financial aspects of leadership was that principals found “less and less of their time on teaching and learning, which could then in turn impact future Ofsted inspection results".

This year’s Belmas conference will take place in Birmingham from 8 to 10 July

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