Sounding board

4th February 2000 at 00:00
The Government has concluded that colleges cannot run on charisma alone. Charisma mixed with insufficient probity has led to some spectacular collapses. So, a crisis of leadership has been identified. Since such a quality is not innate and there's a bit more money around, let's pour it into leadership training.

"Effective leadership," David Blunkett tells us, "is the single most important factor in securing success in any institution." You've got the baton. We've shown you what to do with your arms. Now go out and make sweet music of Learning to Succeed.

Even if it were possible for every principal to be a Simon Rattle, there would be no good tunes without well-trained musicians, decent well-tuned instruments and a good concert hall. We must not underestimate the leadership role. But to make a fetish of it is a mistake that can undermine that less measurable quality which keeps colleges going: collegiality.

Colleges work with teams of staff supporting each other in an atmosphere of self-respect. This has been undermined by the departure of so many experienced teachers, the spread of casualised employment and all those other demotivators of the post-incorporation era. The real crisis is one of morale.

Some 20 per cent of full-time teachers and 55 per cent of part-timers o not have an FE Cert Ed or equivalent. In many colleges, more than half the teaching is carried out by staff whose obligation to the students and the college does not extend beyond the classroom. Increasingly, colleges are looking to even cheaper models: instructors.

Experienced teachers are paid at least 8 per cent less than their school equivalents despite larger classes, increased contact time and an absurd burden of bureaucracy. When you are enervated, it is difficult to raise your head to follow the conductor.

Middle managers are squeezed from both sides, losing sleep over impossible lists of tasks which they never anticipated having to undertake.

Once you realise the crisis is one of morale, it makes sense to spend the money on: Jreprofessionalising teaching and support staff Jdecasualising the workforceJrestoring pay levels and restructuring pay scales to afford career progression Jestablishing the professional status of the FE teacher and manager.

All of this should result in better student retention, improved student achievement, government targets being met in time for the next election and better morale all round.

The writer is general secretary of Natfhe. Next month: Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

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