Editor's COMMENT

21st April 2006 at 01:00
The idea that college principals could, let alone should, be people from outside the education system (see front page) will be hard for many career college managers to swallow.

It is, nevertheless, an idea which FE will have to take on board if it wants to recruit the best leaders.

You can't assume that the most talented lecturer should be principal of a college any more than you can assume that Wayne Rooney should be chief executive of Manchester United.

Harsh, maybe, but it is a fact of commercial life that the skills required to work at the sharp end of any large organisation - whether they be teaching or playing football, are rarely the same as those needed to stand at its helm. The Department for Education and Skills has grasped this essential fact.

It is fashionable to believe that the public sector is not commercial and that colleges have a purpose which is more precious and important than any private-sector activity.

This is true, and all the more reason to make sure that colleges, like private sector businesses, ensure that they have the best person for the top job.

It is time to let the most talented leaders into FE. They need to be well-paid and, in return, they need to understand that, if they are mediocre, they won't be allowed to sleepwalk towards retirement.

In the meantime, every college should have an education director, unlike the principal, is able to concentrate full-time on taking responsibility for the quality of education and training.

Like the football coach who is free to concentrate on developing the players' skills on the pitch, the education director should be given a free hand to ensure the best possible performance in the classroom, unfettered by the wider bureaucratic task of running the institution.

Far from being second-best, this job will be far more interesting for the career education professional than being principal (who is the de facto chief executive) - a position far removed from what colleges are really all about but nevertheless essential.

Such a division of responsibilities, and a recognition that running an institution and ensuring good-quality teaching are intrinsically different skills, is the best guarantee of success.

FE deserves nothing less - and there is no reason why the same principle cannot be applied to schools.

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