Quest for chief executioner

Noel Kershaw

Once it was crystal clear that colleges of further education were to provide education and training. They were led by someone rejoicing in the title of "principal" suggesting leadership on what was studied and the ways in which learning was effected. Balancing the budget, enhancing buildings and creating a positive image were important but never ends in themselves.

Recently, however, a change has taken place in the way in which principals' posts are advertised. There is increasing use of the job title "principal and chief executive."

And now, perhaps driven by the implications of the funding methodology, the wraps have come off. A northern college announced it was looking for a "chief executive and principal" in that order. Or rather the college wasn't looking - it had off-loaded its most important appointment to an outside organisation. The resulting advert sounded like a quest for a toothpaste manufacturing boss.

In the small print it said that "experience of FEHE is not required". All this seemed ominous enough but it was merely the prelude to the following week's advert for a "chief executive" plain and simple in which the logo of the headhunters took precedence over that of the college.

The only things highlighted were the location, salary and benefits which all seemed peripheral to the purpose of the post. Besides which benefits beget fat cats. Fat cats beget sleaze and we know where that leads us.

As you read on the change in the sector becomes obvious. The first two paragraphs do not mention education. Students are mentioned once but only as a statistic and they might as well be widgets for the interest which seems to be taken in them.

The chosen title itself provides it own clues. Chief executive is presumably one who executes. People can read between the lines of these adverts, but the direction which they are taking must concern anybody who has the long-term future of the sector at heart.

Before the next such advertisement appears I only hope that the college concerned makes its copywriters think about the implications or we may be stuck with a new generation of college heads who follow managerial fashion with all the directional sense of lemmings on speed.

The author Noel Kershaw recently retired as principal of Yeovil College

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