How a Leadership Institute can support the FE sector

The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) strives to provide first-class leadership to the FE sector, and to support the development of innovative and collaborative leaders, writes Anju Virdee.

As Head of Leadership Institute at the ETF, I was recently appointed to help pioneer the early development of an institute that will develop aspiring leaders and help support a self-improving education system.

What is a Leadership Institute?

Historically, the FE sector has never had an independent body or institute that brings together a community of future leaders from a broad spectrum to support their development. We believe this needs to change.

The ETF aims to facilitate a Leadership Institute that will be designed by the sector, for the sector. By focusing on supported career pathways for high-quality leadership, we hope to co-create a community where aspiring leaders can come together, develop their skills and share best practice.

Another integral aim of the Leadership Institute is to address the lack of marginalised communities in leadership roles within the FE sector. As an Asian woman, I feel incredibly responsible and proud to lead and implement this institute for the sector and identify the opportunities for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME ) practitioners and women as well. The institute must act as a catalyst and actively encourage more women and BAME members to become sector leaders with clear pathway progression, mentorship and support.

Ultimately, improving our learners’ education experience is at the heart of the Leadership Institute. With a community of aspiring leaders who are better supported, and who reflect a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences, the FE sector will be able to greatly improve our learners’ experience and hopefully inspire future generations.

Steering groups: direct feedback from the sector

At the ETF, it’s our responsibility to facilitate an institute for the sector, by the sector. We want to ensure the institute is adaptable to the sector’s needs and, ideally, everyone will feel like we’re joining on a collective mission to support and create inspirational leaders across the sector.

In November 2021, I was a guest speaker at the Association of Colleges (AoC) Annual Conference, where I led an interactive discussion on the Leadership Institute. Whilst the ETF has hosted a number of steering groups previously, the AoC conference was a timely opportunity to bring together a range of voices to discuss how we can build a greenhouse for leaders that facilitates a self-improving system.

On the day, one of the discussion’s biggest concerns was succession planning. Identifying and developing potential future leaders and senior managers is a challenging and complex process, and how the Leadership Institute can facilitate this was heavily debated. At the conference, it became evident that the ETF must clearly set out how the institute will help carve out a leadership pipeline and encourage middle managers and staff to become the leaders our sector needs. It was an insightful, energetic and thought-provoking discussion, and I came away with a huge sense of responsibility to progress the Leadership Institute – it’s clear the sector is ready for it.

The future of the Leadership Institute

The ETF is working with partners and with the sector to help shape the logistics of the Leadership Institute. This must be a collaborative and informed endeavour, and there are many practical challenges to consider, from whether it should be based in a building, or if it’d be more sustainable to have a mobile set-up that can tour the country. Since the pandemic, the sector has become much more flexible with online learning, and it’s possible the Leadership Institute could become a virtual community, where members from current programmes are joined by alumni. The hope is to harness an inspiring community that supports aspiring leaders to join, but the shaping of how the Leadership Institute operates must come from the sector.

I hope that in the not too distant future my role will become obsolete, as we will have co-created a self-sustaining community. My aim is for the Leadership Institute to become sector-led, attracting a diverse membership that can share best practice and problem-solve together. If we can tap into the vast FE sector wisdom and work as a collective, we can become less dependent on government agencies and less dependent on problems being solved for us. By becoming self-sufficient and self-improving, the sector will be in a much stronger position.

If you’d like to have your say about the Leadership Institute, or want any more information, please contact Anju Virdee:


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