Headlines: October 5th, 2005

A group of Further Education colleges have joined forces to set up a network to help each of them achieve excellence within the next three years. The idea sprang from a seminar held at the annual conference of the Principal’s Professional Council.The seminar, led by Keith Norris the Principal of Burton College at Burton on Trent in Staffordshire and the college’s Director of Learner Services, Howard Brierley, focussed on the strategy the college had adopted to move from being rated as ‘good’ to ‘excellent’

Keith Norris said the session had obviously struck a cord with other Principals, a number of whom approached him about the idea of forming an excellence network so they could work together to achieve excellence. “This is a terrific development that I am sure will make a significant contribution to driving up quality across the sector, ” he said.

The seminar looked at how Burton College had taken the decision, following a good inspection report, to ensure it moved forward at a time when there was a danger of entering a period of consolidation. The college Governors were closely involved in the explicit decision to drive for excellence and in agreeing the implications that this move would have on the college’s strategic plan and its management process.

Mr. Norris told colleagues at the seminar that this had led to greater levels of uncertainty at all levels across the college than had been anticipated, and this uncertainty had to be addressed before any explicit targets and measurable milestones could be set. One important element highlighted in the process was the need for the continual reinforcement of the meaning of excellence and engaging all staff across the college.

Other speakers at the conference included John Brennan, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, who drew attention to the LSC Learner Satisfaction Survey which showed 91 per cent of learners were satisfied with the quality of teaching and the latest employers’ skills survey showing employer satisfaction ratings of 95 per cent. At the same time, he said, there was continuing over emphasis on and over optimism about employer engagement in the business of workforce development. He questioned suggestions that the college sector was permanently inadequately led and that only an injection of more private sector energy could lift further education.