Review of the ETF CEO Resources: Interview with Dr Tim Whitaker, Principal and CEO, Askham Bryan College

Askham Bryan College is a specialist land-based college providing further and higher education courses and work-based learning across North and West Yorkshire, the Tees Valley and Cumbria. Specialist facilities include farms, animal management units, equestrian centres and stables, woodland areas, a dairy unit, a food manufacturing centre, sports centres and student accommodation. The college supports around 3500 students on full-time courses and a further 1500 students, mostly adults, studying on part-time courses.

image of Tim Whitaker

Dr Tim Whitaker joined Askham Bryan College in November 2014 as Campus Principal at York and became Acting Principal and CEO for the College in May 2019 then was appointed permanently in October 2019. Tim specialises in development and delivery of land-based education and is also an experienced researcher with over 50 publications covering agriculture, equine and sports performance analysis. Over the past year he has been using online leadership resources designed for Principals and CEOs in the FE and Skills sector by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The resources are intended to support senior leaders in situ with key technical issues such as finance and performance data and are structured around inputs from other Principals and CEOs.


How useful is it to have insights from other Principals and CEOs?

Advice from other CEOs and Principals was one of the attractions of these resources. It wasn’t just chalk and talk materials, it was a blend of a variety of different individuals, some of whom I know personally. That made me think I would invest a bit of time in looking at these resources alongside the fact that it came from the ETF which has a reputation in the sector as a provider of high quality and appropriate leadership training.


How have you found the format of these resources with videos and short inputs?

I like the bite-size format, that’s an important feature. Once I’d looked at one of the modules for an hour or so, I thought that it was worth pursuing. Since then, I have randomly dipped in and out of the resources. If you’ve got 15 to 30 minutes spare you can pick it up and look at a topic.

I think prior to lockdown there would have been scepticism about this form of learning for leadership, the emphasis has always been on getting together face to face, but that creates issues because it’s a whole day that you’ve got to take out. I think going forward this online approach will be something that certainly myself and others will look at as a much more expedient way to get some really high-quality advice in a short period of time without disrupting whole chunks of a day or a week.


You used both the Financial Sustainability module and the Performance Data Management module – are there any aspects that you found particularly useful?

The Key Metrics topic was useful, also the Key Risks and Insights section. Those were the areas I found most helpful. The specific discussions with Principals and the insights shared are useful.


Have you found the resources useful in practice?

The resources have been useful in terms of developing my own knowledge and understanding and providing a form of challenge within our executive and corporation.

One of the things I’ve talked about with other Principals and leadership coaches in the sector is that the majority of Principals come from an educational background. For the most part they’re experts in teaching and learning, yet because of the financial challenges that colleges face they then find themselves needing to be pseudo financial experts and accountants in order to balance the books. Resources such as these can help to provide support and build this additional expertise.


What is your overall view of this type of CPD?

They are valuable resources which I’ve certainly found it useful to use and apply. They provide a general holistic underpinning for what we do as Principals and CEOs. Importantly, the quality of these resources is good – they are well produced and easy to use, which matters as we move into this online format, as it can be off-putting if the materials are poorly done.

More broadly, I found this type of training quite useful to the point that I would look to do more of this type of thing.

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

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