I’ve been thinking about some of the opportunities I’ve had over the last six months and hoping that by the time I reach the end of my term of office I will have made an impact.
From the very first week when I attended the launch of the National Education Union, followed by regular meetings and a range of conferences, it is turning out to be an inspiring experience.
There are hundreds of thousands of members out there who feel as aggrieved as I do about how our education system is being treated. Knowing I have their support when I put a difficult question to the people in a position to solve the problem really is amazing.
At the Association of Colleges conference last term, I asked a question that met with surprise, during a discussion about the Government’s forced GCSE resit policy at FE colleges. The room was full of senior leaders. Most agreed the policy is flawed, but they felt it had to be implemented as funding depends on it.
I made the point that if all principals refused to “play the game” because it was detrimental to some students, then the Government would have little choice other than to become more flexible.
There was, albeit briefly, silence.
Someone started to clap, then a second person joined in... The people who attended Conference have the collective gravitas to challenge a policy that is very damaging to some young people. In my view, they are the leaders with the power to make a difference.
By adding their voices to the hundreds of thousands of members in the National Education Union they would be very hard to ignore.
If all colleges refused to enact the policy, is there any realistic possibility that the Government would refuse to fund all of them? Force them to close down? I believe it would be a real wake-up call, a powerful message to the Department for Education.
The conference was, on the whole, a positive experience. Workshops covered almost every issue of concern in post-16 education including funding, maths and English GCSE resits, student mental health, developments in technical education, college mergers, work placements, staff workload, the effect of Brexit, apprenticeships and A-levels.
My favourite part, however, was bumping into two former colleagues from Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, where I was an interim head of department.
Principal Debra Gray gave an excellent presentation about the college’s journey to its outstanding grade. She explained how the team had developed the college’s culture to embrace innovation and change, improve student experience and celebrate every success. Importantly, the team admits every mistake.
It was so refreshing to hear and chimed absolutely with my beliefs. She also said that communication had improved significantly, reflecting my view that good communication is key to excellent leadership.
I may have worked at the college for just a few months but I did enjoy quietly celebrating the success of one of my team, performing arts lecturer Angela Pearson, who was at the conference. She was there supporting one of her students, who was singing at the formal evening reception. A fantastic performance and a wonderful reminder of why those of us working in education do what we do.
If you would like to read more about taking care of staff well-being, there will be a fantastic interview with Debra in the February issue of ELM magazine, out at the end of the month.