Milton: College leaders need mental health support

Principals and CEOs must be held accountable - but high salaries don't mean they aren't vulnerable, says Anne Milton

Stephen Exley

What to do when students have poor mental health

The high salaries of college leaders don’t mean they are immune from the stresses of the job, the skills minister has said.

The mental health of principals and CEOs has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months, after a spate of eight high-profile departures in as many weeks in the autumn term.

Garry Phillips, who resigned from City College Plymouth in November following a vote of no confidence by members of the University and College Union, was found dead over the Christmas break. It is not thought there were any suspicious circumstances.

In November, Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes warned against the “vilification” of individual leaders, and said that the exodus had “fuelled an atmosphere in which more college leaders are now fearful for their own futures”.

'Very high stress'

A month earlier, East Coast College principal Stuart Rimmer warned that a number of leaders had spoken to him about suffering from “very high stress, bursts of fear and anxiety, and depressive episodes”.

Speaking to Tes last week, apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton said that while those at the top of colleges should be “accountable”, they still require support.

“Anybody at the top is going to have to be held accountable,” she said. “And you often meet people who don’t go to the top, and they don’t go to the top because they don’t want to carry that burden.

Feeling supported

“That’s not to say that when you get to the top, you shouldn’t have some support. There are quite a lot of avenues for heads and principals to get support, governing bodies as well. Anybody running any organisation, be it in the public sector or the private sector, it’s a stressful job, and it’s usually recognised in their remuneration package… Sometimes the high salaries are appropriate because of the level of accountability and responsibility the person at the top holds. They do have to be held to account, but that’s not to say one shouldn’t be unsympathetic.”

Ms Milton added that it was important for colleges to look after the health and wellbeing of all of their members of staff, and praised mentoring programmes which connect individuals from different institutions. “It’s about getting opportunities to discuss problems you have, issues you have, feel that you are supported by other people in a similar situation,” she added.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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