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Mucho better than macho

No more heroes any more. Thus sang the punk rock group The Stranglers in the 1970s. And now the new leadership college for the post-16 sector could almost be accused of plagiarism.

"We have moved into a post-heroic leadership model" said Graham Peake, interim director of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, launched this week.

The centre, which will cover the entire learning and skills sector including colleges, work-based learning, adult and community education, should be welcomed. But it faces some stiff challenges.

At one level the centre is there to meet a problem of supply. Sixty per cent of leaders in the learning and skills sector will be retiring by 2007.

More than 40 per cent of leaders are over 50. There is a succession crisis among the next generation.

But more importantly, the centre, with its emphasis on collective and team leadership, can do much to change the macho style of management in colleges that has often led to low staff morale, financial mismanagement and ultimately poor performance.

In the post-incorporation period, a new breed of manager was created - entrepreneurial and unshackled. There were successes but in some organisations the uncontrolled managers, listening to no one, created a culture of bullying.

Some have been exposed in the pages of FE Focus, and others no doubt will follow. The centre has evolved from the Government's Strategy for All, which has social justice as one of its planks.

There is new leadership at the Learning and Skills Council and the Association of Colleges. There is no better time for the post-16 sector, individually and collectively, to show that it can lead and inspire. There needs to be an end to naming and shaming, and a beginning of caring and sharing. Strong and well-directed leadership will also be a tool to enable the sector to shed the cloak of invisibility which bedevils it. This week Runshaw College, in Leyland, Lancashire, won a top European award because it substituted its macho management style for an approach based on concern for students, teaching and learning, and values. Should go straight into the textbook - or rather the video.

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