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FE Funding council chief executivecollege Principal;FE Focus;Adult Learners' Week

CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the FE Funding Council David Melville stepped into the shoes of Maggie Galliers, principal of Henley College in Coventry for a day in March. They spent a further day in each other's company on Ms Galliers' day-in-the-life-of his job Mr Melville gained a college-eye view of the impact of FEFC decisions on students and staff, while Ms Galliers' found that her job-swap cum work-shadowing experience "demystified" the top FEFC job. Mr Melville decided he would benefit from going back to the "shop floor".

"The idea is to take people back to jobs they've done in the past. But I decided it would be more appropriate to go back to college because I wanted to understand some of the small functions affected by the big decisions I make."

He spent the morning teaching a second-year A-level maths group with support from the regular lecturer. This was the most "nerve-wracking" part of the day - he hadn't done any maths teaching since leaving Southampton University 14 years ago.

The chief executive-as-principal was on more familiar ground when he sat in on a working lunch with the real principal and chair of governors, and participated in a meeting with the senior management team to discuss the college's response to the FEFC's circular on franchise provision: "It was helpful to see how Henley College got to grips with implementing the practical details of our proposals."

He spent the afternoon entering funding data on the college's management information system. It took him 10 minutes to complete one register - a member of staff would enter 500 in three hours.

"I was left with the feeling that the data we require from colleges -everything from class lists, hours of student attendance to the number of hours teachers have taught - at this college at least was seen as vital for efficient and successful management," said Mr Melville.

"I learned something about best practice, which helps when you're looking at colleges which are not doing so well."

Maggie Galliers, whose day incorporated the preparation of papers for an FEFC meeting, meetings at the BBC in London to discuss education policy on introducing people to the Internet, and a black-tie dinner, said: "It was not too dissimilar to an average day of mine. It's just that we operate at different levels. David Melville has a meeting with the BBC, I talk on local radio."

She was impressed by the range and breadth of the chief executive's role. "One moment he can be dealing with strategic policy meeting, the next he can be opening a routine post-bag and he has to be on top of everything."

Mr Melville found the job swap more rewarding than a traditional secondment: "Because this works up and down, not sideways, I think it's more useful for understanding part of the job you currently do.

"I hope it will encourage people to have a go because it really does have benefits. It would also be useful within colleges - for example, the principal swapping with a lecturer."

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