CEO blog: You may be great, but who is better? And can you learn from them?

David Russell

David Russell, CEO, Education and Training Foundation @DavidRussellETF

The best part of leading the Education and Training Foundation is the privilege of being invited into Colleges, ITPs and ACL providers around the country and seeing their work, as well as hearing about their challenges.   Every provider has a different story to tell, but some of my questions are always the same.  One of my favourites – which elicits fascinating responses – is this : “what are you really fantastic at, and who is even better at it than you ?”

The reason for the first part is obvious : colleagues speak with eloquence and passion about the achievements of their students and staff, and I learn more about what excellence looks like in our sector in 2015.  The second part I find more problematic.  Even when a department is outstanding in subject provision (maths, perhaps, or games design) or excels in an area of activity (employer engagement, maybe, or use of learning technology) colleagues don’t often know who is at the very top of their game.

I think this matters.  A world-class athlete knows who is above her in the rankings.  A burgeoning business knows which competitor is doing better.  And a highly respected university department knows which others are judged to be even stronger centres of excellence.

Let me be clear: this is not about the virtues of competition.  In the field of education I believe competition is considerably over-rated.  It is for the very opposite reason: as a head of faculty or a service manager I want to know who is great so that I can learn from them, approach them, collaborate with them.  I may ask to send students to them on research visits.  I will certainly want to create opportunities for my staff in exchanges or CPD.  And I will want to be inspired by their work and use it to inject new ideas into my own thinking, as well as simply taking heart from the success of others in my profession.  I may even have a thing or two to teach them in exchange!

Further education and training has a powerful social mission, and an egalitarian ethos.  It is one of its great strengths.  For me that is wholly consistent with a constant quest for self-improvement and ever-greater stretch.  And that’s why, when I am out with my ‘ear to the ground’ I will keep asking not only “what are you brilliant at?” but also “and who do you think is the best at what you do?”.

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