A top civil servant saw for himself how his department's initiatives affected a deputy principal. Joe Clancy reports
Being a career civil servant, Rob Wye admits that he found following a college's deputy principal around for two days something of an eye-opener.
He realised at first hand how much staff in colleges take on board the policy documents produced from his office in Coventry.
As director of strategy and communications for the Learning and Skills Council, he is responsible for strategies such as Agenda for Change and Priorities for Success.
He says the time he spent at New college, in Nottingham, while work-shadowing Asha Khemka, made him realise the impact these initiatives are having on colleges' planning.
"I was very surprised by how much all the staff knew about the LSC strategies and what they are doing to shift towards LSC priorities," he said.
"It was fascinating to attend a senior management meeting to see how a college is managed and to discover what their perceptions are."
He says he was also taken aback by how much advance planning is being undertaken in case a proposed merger between two other colleges in Nottingham goes ahead and the possible impact that it would have on New college.
He said: "It is a big issue in Nottingham as to what should happen to People's college in view of its bad inspection, and where provision should go if a merger with Broxtowe college is approved."
He was also surprised by how much he learned at a training session he attended on lesson observation, even though he has never worked in a college and has no teaching experience. After graduating from Cambridge, he worked at the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission before joining the LSC.
He was also pleased by the progress the college has made since it was inspected in January, when two of its 12 curriculum areas were rated outstanding. Latest self-assessment reviews show that three more areas are now rated grade one.
The work-shadowing experience was a return visit for Mr Wye. Ms Khemka shadowed him and LSC chief executive Mark Haysom for a week in August.
It was set up as part of a Black Leadership Initiative scheme to encourage the promotion of ethnic-minority managers in further education.
Ms Khemka said: "It is an excellent idea. It means that both sides understand each other and what progress is being made, and what the limitations and opportunities are.
"He didn't think he would be more able to make any contribution to the meetings he attended, but he ended up making a very significant and valuable contribution.
"He sat in on a meeting we were having about how we are responding to government and LSC policies. He found that very useful and perhaps an eye-opener that colleges are discussing things at that level at such an early stage."
She believes the shadowing experience will further enhance her chances of achieving her ambition of becoming a principal within the next year.
She revealed that one job she has her sights on is the vacancy at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college, where the principal, John Stone, is leaving to become the first chief executive of the newly-formed Learning and Skills Network.
"I am definitely going to apply for that," she said.
"It will be a big challenge to take it further in the direction it needs to go. It is largely satisfactory in most areas, and I have demonstrated that I can turn satisfactory into outstanding.
"London attracts me because of the challenge it provides due to the diversity of its learners. There is not one principal in the city from my background."