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Team spirit is the secret of outstanding success

The secret of successful leadership lies in recruiting team players to senior management posts, according to the principal of a top-performing college.

In a recent inspection Bridgwater College in Somerset was found to be outstanding in leadership and management - described as "dynamic and effective" - and all its curriculum areas were judged either outstanding or good.

"Certainly the senior management team is absolutely key," says principal Fiona McMillan. "They are a very capable and successful group.

"Some of them have had senior management positions in other colleges and have brought that expertise with them. Others have been promoted internally. But they were all team players.

"And I think if there is one message for people who apply for jobs here, it is that you have to be somebody who cares about students but you also have to be a team player."

Despite the college's corporate ethos, Fiona's background is in education. She was an English teacher before moving to further education and then into college management.

"I have seen from other colleges I have worked in how important it is to have a corporate feel," she says.

"I have worked in places which have run very successfully in that way, but also in places where it is clear that people at a senior level are doing their own thing.

"As a result, while you might have pockets of good practice, you end up with something that does not make a coherent whole."

Bridgwater, a tertiary college with 12,000 full-time and part-time students, has a nine-strong senior management team, around 50 in middle management and 200 full-time equivalent teaching staff.

Consultation processes are in place for all the staff. Each team at different levels in the college, whether curriculum or support staff, are involved in strategic planning meetings.

There has also been an extensive development programme for managers. As well as having regular meetings, once a year the entire middle-management team descends on a hotel for a "residential" to share good practice.

Fiona McMillan believes a culture of openness between staff and management has helped avert strikes. This summer, teaching staff decided against taking industrial action because it was too close to exams.

"I think we have a very open dialogue with the union executive, one that is built on mutual trust and respect. I am always careful to consult with them on what is happening. And likewise, if they have a problem, they will come and talk to me and we will try to resolve it at a local level."

Part of the college's success, she says, is making sure the mission to deliver high-class learning to students comes across to all staff.

"It is about making sure that everybody - right the way across the college - is involved in how well we are doing and in planning for the future.

"And we really make no distinction between teaching staff, support staff and part-time staff.

"We are very much on first-name terms here. Everybody knows everybody else and there is a friendly quality to the college. People are not concerned about speaking to people who are more senior in the hierarchy."

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