This month sees the completion of a sea change in attitudes to running colleges. While staff are not required to train for senior posts, a national framework for management training is now ready, reports Neil Merrick
There are more opportunities for self-development than ever before for people running colleges. Most institutions seem to be either providing customised training or encouraging staff to attend courses elswhere.
Later this month, the Further Education Development Agency will launch a new programme for senior management teams - the latest in a series of schemes aimed at principals or other managers. These are now complemented by draft occupational standards for FE managers drawn up by the Further Education National Training Organisation (Fento).
Though the standards must still be approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and its Scottish equivalent, their existence should ensure future management training adheres to a national framework.
The Government has still to declare whether principals must gain a qualification, but some form of new certificate for FE managers cannot be far away.
If the Fento standards are approved next year, higher education institutions and awarding bodies will be able to offer qualifications for managers at all levels, whether the Government makes them compulsory for senior staff or not.
Feda's director of professional and organisational development, Graham Peeke, says the agency is promoting Fento training now to avoid individuals being forced to repeat training they have already done when a requirement to gain qualifications is introduced.
"We map what people have done against any requirement for a principal's qualification," he says. "In the absence of clarity from the Department for Education and Employment, the best thing is to ensure training is based on the Fento standards." A 1997 Feda survey found three out of five college managers held no management qualifications, while another Feda study last year showed most colleges spending between 0.7 and 1 per cent of their total budget on staff development.
No figure was given for spending on management development but Mr Peeke is encouraged by the number of colleges running "pretty comprehensive" in-house programmes.
Some run programmes with the other colleges or higher education institutions. Yet there are also colleges where management development consists of little more than spending a day learning about the Further Education Funding Council's funding methodology.
"About a third probably have no specific arrangements for long-term management development," he says. "They may do one-off days, but general development for front-line staff tends to take priority when resources are scarce."
Increasing numbers of colleges receive FEFC standards fund grants for training linked to improving a college's overall performance. Wirral Metropolitan College received pound;50,000 towards its recovery programme after unning up debts of more than pound;9 million, mainly due to poor management.
"Management development is seen as fundamental for the whole organisation," says Sara Nicholson, Wirral's new director of quality and performance review. "The idea is managers can develop their staff if they know where the college is going."
Wirral supports managers who undertake generic awards, such as an MBA (master of business administration). Yet Ms Nicholson questions whether these place sufficient emphasis on skills like conflict resolution, team-building and budget management. At least once a term, managers group together for six hours of training geared specifically to Wirral. "For colleges in recovery or struggling to meet the Government's widening participation agenda, the answer lies in your college, not in an MBA textbook."
Wirral uses the Fento standards as a checklist to help managers decide whether they are lacking in specific skills. During her appraisal last year with the principal, Ray Dowd, it was clear she needed better delegation skills and planning techniques.
"It's all about looking at yourself as an objective component of the organisation and the fact you have your own development needs," she says. "That can only be done in a climate of trust."
Management development has been critical in ensuring the success of New College, Nottingham, since it was created two years ago out of a merger between five institutions. It is part of the cyclical strategic planning process, and may not be identifiable as training.
"Managers are doing development work all of the time," says personnel services manager Dawn Melloy. "Strategic planning is a development event in its own right because managers learn how the college works along with its aims and objectives."
New College also runs discrete training on recruitment and selection, and offers management qualifications, part-funded by the college, in partnership with Nottingham University.
According to Association for College Management education officer Nadine Cartner, such training is important all the time, not just when colleges are recovering from a crisis.
She supports a qualification for new or aspiring principals but wants to see more attention focused on middle managers. "All of the arguments we make about why FE is so important to the knowledge economy applies to our own staff as well," she says.
Basingstoke College of Technology last year offered its managers the Institute of Management's certificate in executive communication, which covered discipline, grievance, written and verbal communication and staff evaluation. Though the institute withdrew it before anyone gained a certificate, college staff development officer Wynne Handley continued the modules, which appealed to middle managers.
"Qualifications are not such an important feature," she says. "Most people in FE are highly qualified anyway. They need training to meet the demands of their job role."