6th November 2015 at 00:00
playing the long game

At a time of uncertainty, the sector needs optimistic leaders with a strong vision, argues thinktank chief executive Ayub Khan

Over the years, there is no doubt that the further education and skills sector has adapted to the changes required by government. Its strength in delivering basic skills, A-levels, NVQs, foundation degrees, diplomas, apprenticeships, work-based training, and personal and community learning is admirable. Yet the sector remains poorly defined and understood.

The strength of FE and skills can be seen in its workforce: the practitioners who serve its learners every day in all types of settings; and the leaders who navigate each policy change and interpret funding guidance. This is part of the sector’s DNA. Yet something different is required to respond to the challenges we face now.

We need leadership that is able to look beyond the current crisis. For FE colleges in particular, the anxiety of focusing on area reviews means that the conversation becomes limited to structures, jobs and funding. Yes, this is a difficult time, but times have never been easy.

Instead, our leaders need to keep their eyes fixed firmly on the long term. They must create a new vision for the sector, outlining what will it look like beyond area reviews and how will it be able to capture the benefits of true devolution.

The FE and skills leadership needs to shape a new narrative. It must also have a relentless focus on the leadership of thinking. So often, because of the rush to deliver government policy goals, those in charge have missed the time and opportunity to reflect, research and build a body of knowledge that serves schools and universities well. To ensure that the sector has a place in the future, we must foster an environment where this is second nature.

The truth is that, despite the current difficulties, there is a new prize on the horizon. What awaits the sector is the opportunity to have true autonomy, with institutions and providers working together. Yes, it will inevitably be leaner, but it will also be much more fit for purpose: serving learners and helping employers. It will be a sector that is supported by strong research and evidence, and therefore better informed and more understood by policymakers and individuals.

The clock is ticking. Visionary leadership is required to position the sector for the future. Remember, the prize is on the horizon.

Ayub Khan is interim chief executive of the Further Education Trust for Leadership thinktank

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