Five principals of liberation whose memory will never dim

19th December 1997 at 00:00
The FE managers who took part in last week's breakfast launch of the Industrial Society's Liberating Leadership Programme must have felt a sense of irony. Like every public service under new Labour, FE colleges are beginning to apply the messages contained within the Industrial Society research. Most colleges are building industrial relations based on trust and harmonious approaches to leadership and management.

At the same time, ironically, our leaders are liberating themselves. In the past year more than one in five college principals have taken a retirement package. As I look back on 1997 I can't help feeling a sense of personal melancholy. The sector has lost some real characters.

For example there is Donald Morrison, of Reid Kerr College in Paisley. He appointed me to my first promoted post. Some years later, in 1993, principals and chairs were invited to attend a Secretary of State's reception in the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle, a reward for successfully managing incorporation. Minibuses had been provided to shuttle guests down through the imposing tunnels of the Castle towards the Royal Mile. As the first transit left, Donald sat alongside a number of Glasgow principals whose colleges had not fared well in terms of the financial transfer from Strathclyde Regional Council. As we glided effortlessly downwards through the underground, dungeon-like paths of the castle grounds Donald called out: "Stop the bus, driver. I am on the wrong bus. This is the one with the deficits." As ever, Donald was on top of his budget.

I also remember John Reid, latterly of Bell College in Hamilton, with a great deal of fondness. In his days at Motherwell College John was the first principal to make contact with a newly appointed further education officer - me - to exhort the full assistance of headquarters in maximising his college's image. Motherwell had used a small injection of funds from the council's City of Culture budget to allow catering students to produce an excellent cake in the form of a scaled model replica of the QE2. Not only did John want the full council to enjoy the artifact, he insisted, much to the chagrin of the principal of the local college, that the model should end its journey in Clydebank Town Hall. It is a measure of big John's tenacity - he was affectionately known as Rab C Nesbitt in a suit - that the QE2 did end up where it was first launched, in Clydebank.

Bill Greenock was Clydebank's principal at that time. As well as being the first principal to reject me for a head's post he was also at the forefront of the FE modernisers movement in the early nineties. On appointing my great friend and colleague, Eddie Pollard, as his depute, he promptly launched a new and quite radical concept in FE, principalship and the idea of collective leadership.

The jury is still out on the concept but on one occasion Bill and Eddie were seen leaving the college simultaneously. It is reputed that from the window of the second floor business studies staffroom a member of staff quipped: "There goes the principal." A colleague replied: "And there goes the ship."

Another stalwart to retire in 1997 was Bill Bannatyne, principal of Glasgow College of Food Technology and probably the funniest man ever to work in FE. On one occasion he explained the distinction between a plastic surgeon and a Scotvec subject assessor. "It would appear that a plastic surgeon tucks up your features."

More recently, on being visited by the National Audit Office he explained that he had received a bonus as part of his Christmas package. Before the NAO man's eyebrows could come down, Bill pointed to the Dinky toy on his office window sill.

My last piece of reminiscence relates to Ray Bailey, the Great White Shark of Glasgow's Cardonald College. I was Ray's apprentice during my first foreign business trip. We had been asked to speak at an international conference in Finland. Our contributions were well received and as a reward the organisers invited us to a celebration sauna party.

An impressive blond Swedish vice-principal, a woman, was obviously taken by Ray's intellectual prowess. I didn't quite hear the full conversation but her body talk was not in doubt. I'll never forget the big man's parting shot. "Listen, dear, I'm sorry but I've got to the stage where I can't take yes for an answer." Ray's positive tone is an abiding memory.

More than 10 years ago my daughter Amy asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. The lessons I have learnt from these fellow professionals, leaders in their chosen path, take me closer to an answer. It has got as much to do with the fun of liberation as the demands of management. Here's to liberated leadership. Here's to five liberated leaders who gave so much to the FE service.

Graeme Hyslop is depute principal of Langside College, Glasgow, and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. He writes in a personal capacity.

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