Mark Wright, Director of Curriculum, Education and Training Foundation

Every provider institution in further education is different. You only have to visit a few and you can see and feel the differences between them. And that’s as true of the providers of specialist land-based education as it is of other types of institution. But while they’re different, these providers have many things in common; including a mix of very distinct characteristics and the challenges they and their leaders face.

Educating residential learners

Typically, these institutions are educating residential learners, both from the 16–18 age group and adults. This poses some safeguarding challenges that non-residential providers do not face.

The mixed age groups from which residential learners are drawn points at another distinct feature of this part of the sector. With approximately 50 per cent of all land-based higher education – including academic study and practical experience – being offered in these colleges rather than higher education institutions, the mix of learners is greater than is typically the case elsewhere across further education.

The number of fatalities and reportable injuries in the land sector is relatively high; in 2018 they were approximately 7.5 times higher than in the construction industry. Working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with potentially hazardous large machinery and animals, adds a layer of complexity to health and safety challenges. Doing so alone, in inclement weather and outside daylight hours, exacerbates that challenge.

Sector-specific commercial acumen

The significant commercial element of these institutions’ activities also asks different questions of leaders in land-based education. The complexity and costs involved in delivery, and the focus on productivity measures as well as overall financial performance, means that sector-specific commercial acumen is a valuable asset for senior leaders in this part of the sector.

Recognising these distinct challenges is one factor behind the Education and Training Foundation’s decision to partner with Landex to run Department for Education-backed specialist provision to support the professional development of leaders in the sector. The other is a recognition of the growing challenge facing that cohort of colleagues. There’s an acute shortage of leaders and managers with the required specialist skills and experience required – estimated to be in the region of 200 individuals – and creating a pipeline of talented people to address that shortage needs to be a priority.

Developing managers of specialist land-based education

The programme that has been created addresses these challenges by developing managers of specialist land-based education by extending their range of skills, knowledge and experience and preparing them for progression to more senior roles.

Structured across six blocks, it looks at issues including:

  1. Implications of operating in a mixed economy
  2. Future of the land-based management sector
  3. Curriculum
  4. Working with land-based industries
  5. Management, and
  6. Student support

Early indications, from the 23 participants that attended the first block at the end of 2019, are that it is being positively received. Feedback has praised the mix of practical and theoretical content, the inspiring and honest presentations, and the benefits of learning alongside those from similar roles facing similar challenges. The decision that each block should be hosted at a provider institution – in the case of the first, Wiltshire College – has also been recognised as beneficial. Seeing another provider’s facilities was deemed helpful by many participants.

The potential to make a real difference to management capacity and capability

Although the programme is regarded as a pilot at this stage, those early indications suggest that this work is highly valued by the sector and has the potential to make a real difference to management capacity and capability. That’s good news, because this is a situation that needs to be taken seriously. While good management writes success stories across the sector, the opposite is also true. Investment in the management of land-based education is an investment in our land-based industries; something that is particularly crucial now that new challenges and opportunities need to be carefully managed in the context of a post-Brexit Britain.

The sector also needs to adapt to wider changes; as well as traditional and modern methods of farming, it is increasingly also a modern science and technology-based industry too, with the shift to plant-based foods, diet and nutrition, and sustainability of food production to meet future needs. This all adds a complexity to the Industry and places a premium on effective leadership and management.

We look forward to seeing the difference this new provision makes, and the pay-off from this timely investment.

Mark Wright, Director of Curriculum, Education and Training Foundation

FE News caught up with Mark at last year's AoC annual conference to discuss the future of leadership development in the sector:

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