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On the right track for success

Strong leadership and a steady sense of direction are why an FE college has done so well in the race to be the UK's best employer. Steve Hook reports

Employers including Volkswagen have been beaten by a college in a competition to find the best companies to work for.

Staff at South Cheshire college in Crewe will be feeling particularly smug about reaching 61st place in the Sunday Times league because car-maker Bentley, also based in Crewe, is owned by the German car manufacturer, which came 67th in the list.

Top of the list was WL Gore and Associates - which makes Gore-Tex, a specialist fabric.

Researchers, who examined questionnaires filled in by 250 of the college's staff, found there was strong support for the leadership and values of the institution, which remains the highest-ranking college in the country according to the Office for Standards in Education.

South Cheshire's entry into the competition was coordinated by Sheelagh Salter, the college's director of organisational development. It is the first time a further education college has been listed.

Ms Salter says the college has benefited from a clear sense of purpose. Its principal, David Collins, has been outspokenly opposed to the idea of taking part in the Government's increased flexibility programme which places 14 to 16-year-olds in colleges part time for vocational courses.

Ms Salter says: "We have certainly benefited from the quality of direction from David. We have not allowed ourselves to be pulled in all sorts of different directions ,and I have no doubt that this has helped.

"We are considering getting involved in an apprenticeship programme, with 14 to 16-year-olds, but this will be selective and we will be very clear who we are prepared to take. It won't be enough if they are fed up with school and think college is a bit more sexy."

She said staff regarded the leadership of the college as moral and supportive.

The college has 3,000 full-time students. a budget of pound;17.4 million, and staff pay is above the national average.

"Management is about support and working together," said Ms Salter. "I think perhaps some colleges which have not succeeded do not have those values."

The college is the only 16-18 provider in its area.

Mr Collins said: "We believe we have the best working conditions for staff in the country. I think a lot of colleges would be able to pay their staff better by finding efficiencies.

"It is better to have one well-paid member of staff than two people effectively only doing one-and-a-half jobs."

Holy Cross sixth-form college in Bury, Lancashire, came 24th in the small business category. Mike O'Hare, its principal, said: "I was delighted that we were ranked as high as number 24, particularly as it seems we are the first college to be listed since the small companies category was introduced three years ago.

"This has been a particularly good year for Holy Cross in that the college was ranked at number eight in the A-level performance tables, earlier this year, this was two places higher than in 2005.

"In addition, a total of 11 students have been offered places at Oxford and Cambridge. This is the highest number the college has ever achieved."

A poll for the LSC Satisfaction Survey last year showed 89 per cent of students were satisfied with colleges overall - with the quality of teaching on its own scoring 91 per cent.

An overwhelming vote of confidence also came from a survey of employers which found 95 per cent of those who rely on FE to train their staff were satisfied with what colleges were doing.

Most employers chose FE rather than private providers for off-the-job training and two fifths said they took advice from colleges to shape training programmes.


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