Review of the ETF CEO Resources: Interview with Clare Russell, Principal and CEO, Runshaw College

Runshaw College is situated in the area of South Ribble and Chorley, Lancashire, and has been an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ tertiary college for more than 25 years, operating across two main sites: a sixth-form centre in Leyland and a largely adult campus in Chorley. The college has approximately 5,800 students enrolled on courses from entry level to degree level. Around 5,000 students are enrolled on programmes for 16-18-year-olds, with just over 500 students on adult and HE programmes and 325 apprentices on level 2 to level 5 courses.

image of Clare Russell

Clare Russell took up the post of Principal and Chief Executive at Runshaw College in August 2020, after joining the college in 2009, initially as Head of School for Computing & ICT. She has served as an Ofsted Inspector for several years and has also held senior roles with awarding organisations. Just after being appointed Principal, Clare received details from the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) about new online resources for Principals and CEOs to use in situ to help with key issues such as finance and data and decided to invest time in the Financial Sustainability module.

What was it about the Financial Sustainability module that attracted your attention?

Coming from a curriculum background and being recently appointed, financial strategy for the whole organisation was a new area for me and I was looking for suitable personal development support. I trust the ETF and I liked the fact that the resources were focused on advice from current Principals and CEOs. It was really good to hear how they had used certain strategies and techniques. There is a fair amount of theory in the Financial Sustainability module, but at the same time it’s very practically based, and I think it helps to hear how current Principals and CEOs are utilising the theories and putting them into practice. Again, many of the contributors I knew and recognised, partly because I had been on the ETF’s ‘Preparing for CEO programme’, which made it even more real.

How did you find the video-based format broken up into topics?

Brilliant, I liked that format and I really enjoyed the videos. I took detailed notes because I kept finding things where I thought, “That’s going to be useful in the future.” The fact that you can do the training in short bursts is very helpful. I actually did the module in a couple of days over the Christmas break, but in theory it’s the kind of resource that you could pick up and put down. It’s also really nice to go back to it as well because it’s so modular. Each topic has a summary document which you can download, which helps. I’ve already looked back at these along with all my notes.

What have you found most useful from the Financial Sustainability module?

What I liked about the Financial Sustainability module is that it’s about strategic planning, not just finance, and shows how the two are inextricably linked. What you get sometimes is finance on the one hand and strategy on the other, but this brought them together really neatly. I thought it was quite different from other courses that I’ve seen where they are just looking at accountancy-type training, focused on finance in its own right. What’s been most useful for me is how the module has related finance and curriculum planning to strategy and shown how it all comes together.

Have you been able to apply any of the strategies and techniques that you mentioned?

Yes, very much so. I’m going through strategic planning for the next three years at the moment and I’ve drawn on the strategic plans from Exeter College and Walsall College which were given as examples in the module.

The material on curriculum planning was also very useful, again because it focuses on more than just the numbers. The module referred to a matrix model looking at the relationship between income contribution and quality as a guide to what curriculum areas to grow.  That’s been a really interesting, really simple little matrix that we’ve used straight away in our curriculum planning.

There are so many things in the module that I’ve just lifted and used with my own team because they’re ready to go.

Have you shared the material with your executive team?

I’ve passed on the links to my Finance Director and my Quality Director because they are working on the budget and curriculum plan for the next financial year and the module includes really clear operational measures that we need to be using more. Measures such as space utilisation, staff utilisation, and average class sizes which we’ve used previously, but the module has shone a spotlight on them, so I’ve indicated that we need to prioritise these measures for the next financial year.

I’ve also shared the material about strategic planning really broadly because we’re developing a whole new type of strategic plan this year, and that’s partly because I’ve seen such excellent practice in the examples given in the module, such as the Walsall and Exeter College plans. I’ve shared this with our whole college management team, all of our Board of Governors, as well as the senior executive team, and next week I’ll be sharing it with all staff.

What would be your overall view of the value of this module to Principals and CEOs such as yourself?

The Financial Sustainability module is an extremely well-crafted and accessible training package.  It seamlessly integrates financial planning with strategic planning, highlighting the importance of cashflow, the risk register and governance oversight.  The practical, human input via videos from current principals and finance directors is engaging and useful.  I immediately put my learning to work in the development of my college’s strategic plan and curriculum planning process. 

To access the ETF’s Development Resources for CEOs and Principals, visit: Foundation Online Learning

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