Vision of an extra dimension;FE Focus

21st May 1999 at 01:00
West Country college principal Geoff Terry has been put in charge of the new Further Education National Training Organisation. Tim West finds out why

IF ANYONE'S going to persuade college principals they need a new qualification to do the job, it's probably another principal.

Geoff Terry has been recruited from Norton Radstock College, near Bath, to do that persuading.

As new chief executive of the fledgling Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO), one of his first tasks will be to develop management standards for the sector.

These are likely to be at the core of the new qualification for principals announced by FE minister Baroness Blackstone earlier this month.

The recent run of mismanagement scandals that have hit colleges make this a sensitive issue, and Mr Terry is anxious to set a positive tone.

"FENTO can bring an extra dimension of support to what principals are doing. We can move the agenda forward.

"Here is a support mechanism which, if properly delivered, will enhance the status of principals for their benefit as much as the sector's benefits." he said.

Despite choosing his words with care he promises not to shy away from being critical if the situation calls for it. He will " not defend the indefensible", he said.

Those who know him confirm that Geoff Terry is not afraid to speak out. His vice-principal, Shirley Arayan, commented: "He's got clear views on further education and where it should be going. He's also a great listener, so he'll take on board what people's opinions are."

She added that it would have been easy to appoint someone with a background in policy and research, perhaps straight from the Association of Colleges or the Further Education Development Agency, both involved in setting up FENTO.

"Geoff's actually coming from the basis of a good industrial training," she said. "What they'll get is someone who really understands the different roles in colleges."

Mr Terry's CV reveals a career in FE spanning 21 years and five colleges. Norton Radstock was his first principalship, having come from the vice-principal's job at Basingstoke College of Technology in 1995.

Asked what drives him, he said: "I passionately believe in FE, and I think this role is crucial."

Michael Wright, principal at Kendal College and a member of FENTO's governing council, has known the 47-year-old for four years and says he will be well received.

"Geoff's got a lot of goodwill with him. He is very enthusiastic about his work - he grabs it with both hands," said Mr Wright. "He will be a great loss to the principalship."

He added that the FENTO council was looking for someone who could pick up his brief quickly. The organisation only approved its business plan in March but has already developed standards for teachers and hopes to have its management standards ready by the end of June. Those for governors and support staff are also being prepared.

Other key aims include a strategy to address staff skill shortages. There are already problems recruiting IT staff, for example, because they can earn high salaries elsewhere.

Then there is the question of how to interact with the training and enterprise councils and regional development agencies and, as further education's only UK-wide training organisation, with the new Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

Mr Terry, who will work out his notice at Norton Radstock while he heads up FENTO part time until the end of July, admitted the next few months will require "careful planning".

His most crucial task, however, will be persuading the sector that FENTO is worth supporting. Mike Wright, for one, thinks he's the right man for the job: "There will be a selling job to do, and if anyone can do it, he can."

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