Review of the ETF CEO Resources: Interview with Sean Mackney, Principal and CEO, Petroc College of Further and Higher Education

Sean Mackney joined Petroc as Principal and CEO in August 2019 after a career in Higher Education including positions at HEFCE, the Higher Education Academy and University of Exeter. Prior to joining Petroc he was Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research, Enterprise and External Relations) and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Bucks New University.

image of Sean Mackney

Petroc is a general Further Education college made up of three campuses situated in north and mid-Devon, serving a large geographic area of mostly rural and coastal communities. The college supports 2,500 learners aged 16 to 18 and just under 3,000 learners on adult programmes, plus approximately 800 apprentices.

Sean has been using a new range of online leadership resources co-designed and developed by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) with a number of Principals and CEOs in the further education sector.


How did you first come across the ETF’s online resources for CEOs and Principals and why did you decide to try them out?

I moved from the HE sector into FE in 2019 and was keen to understand which parts of institutional leadership were transferable and which were different. I looked around for an equivalent body to Advance HE which is the professional membership body for HE and runs the professional standards framework. I saw the Education and Training Foundation and noticed that they had a lot of good resources. I joined the ETF’s strategic programme for new Principals and CEOs and then heard about these online resources when they were launched, which looked good for those starting in post.


What do you think about the approach and format of these resources?

I think these resources are complementary to more theoretical frameworks. They focus on information and advice from existing Principals and CEOs, which is useful in terms of what to look out for. They condense the key messages nicely and they’re very accessible. They work well as an accompaniment to other leadership programmes.


What about the choice of subject matter?

In terms of subject matter, I thought both of the initial modules – Financial Sustainability and Using Data for Performance Management – were good subjects to start with.  The Key Metrics topic was useful, for example. Also, the material on cashflow and data management. I want to move the college to using data in the best way to support real-time decision making.


Where do you think these resources fit in terms of CPD for leaders?

I think these resources are particularly good for new Principals and CEOs stepping into post. When senior leaders are promoted to Principal or CEO it’s a big shift in responsibility and domain knowledge. These resources can help with getting up to speed more quickly, understanding management risks and sector responsibilities. They flag up the right things to pay attention to, which is reassuring for new leaders.

They would be good as part of an induction pack for new Principals and CEOs with guidance on how to use them. In the recent FE White Paper there was an emphasis on governance. These materials are already packaged up and ready for a Chair of Governors to pass on to their new Principal or CEO as part of a managed induction process to ensure effective onboarding. They are good resources and they should definitely be expanded.

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

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