Record numbers of principals are under pressure to quit their jobs, raising fears of a leadership shortage in colleges.
According to the first figures published by the Principals Professional Council, which represents college bosses in employment matters, serious cases are running at an all time high.
The council reported 17 compromise agreements involving colleges and principals that parted company in the past year. Until perhaps five years ago there were typically six such agreements a year.
So far this year the council, which rarely speaks publicly due to the confidential nature of its casework, has represented 43 senior managers in serious cases, mostly involving mergers or a breakdown in relationships with the employing authority.
Michael Thrower, general secretary of the council, blamed a growth in the culture of performance by results and governing boards that were often too quick to blame their principal for any problem, educational or otherwise. "We are seeing an increase in the football manager approach where principals are being held responsible for league table results," Dr Thrower said.
"Added to this we have boards that look at colleges in terms of their own commercial values and believe that performance judged to be poor commercially should be penalised, regardless of the educational success of a college."
Dr Thrower gave the example of college principals being put under pressure by their boards to deliver large-scale building projects on time and within budget. "A principal is not employed to be a property developer. But if these projects over spend or fall behind then they end up carrying the can," he said.
"The principal's job has changed but the question is `are we asking too much of them'?"
Dr Thrower said that the departures of so many principals combined with the increased pressures of the job could leave further education with a dearth of leaders.
"There has been a marked deterioration in the numbers of people coming forward to be principals," he said.
"And, with so many principals leaving, we are losing years of education experience that the sector can ill afford."
Barry Lovejoy, head of further education for the University and College Union, said: "This is an unfortunate result of FE's culture of targets, efficiencies and the never-ending changing of goalposts, but it is the tip of the iceberg because our members in middle management and in lecturing posts are suffering the same problems."
Is too much expected of principals or is this justified performance management? Have your say: FELetters@tes.co.uk.