Servants of four masters
"Middle managers are more and more caught in the middle," says Alan Coupe, a head of department who represents FE lecturers on Natfhe's national executive. "Senior management devolves down the responsibility to do things, often without the power to carry them out."
The problem is that the people who have to put the policies into practice are not always involved in their formulation. Mr Coupe does not want them to make policy - he's not suggesting democracy - but he thinks managers feel frustrated because they have no sense of ownership of the policies.
That places pressure on them - which increases as the staff shrinks. "The number of people you can delegate things to has declined. It stems from funding pressures - that is why we have had to lose so many posts. Lost posts create pressures on the people still there. In many colleges there is too much to do for everyone."
Not all the work is constructive. "The inspection and funding methodology create a lot of work. The Further Education Funding Council claims to be efficient, but it is only so because it passes a lot of its work, a lot of the number cunching and paperchasing, to the colleges."
Many heads of department also have a heavy teaching load which puts a lot of stress on them, says Mr Coupe.
A career structure would help, and so would training in management, but these would not solve the problems.
Stress is now a serious problem, says a curriculum team manager at a newly merged college. "Many people are getting very close to the edge." The people in the middle are under pressure often from four different senior managers all of whom they must try to satisfy.
She teaches 40 hours a week on top of her managerial duties, which means a 60 hour week. She talks of "the stress of trying to deliver three roles in one".
A few more managers to share the load would not be that expensive, she says. In many cases it would simply be a matter of promoting a lecturer.
But college systems need some constructive work as well. "I got a budget statement yesterday but it was not useful because it was in accountant-speak."
Another managerial problem stems from the stream of government initiatives. Like many committed to the New Deal, she finds itsimplementation almost insoluble because the students are expected to be at college for many more weeks per year than mainstream students.