'CPD is critically important for us all': Palvinder Singh, CEO and Principal at Kirklees College

Palvinder Singh, CEO and Principal at Kirklees College in Huddersfield, talks about his personal journey to leadership, and how continuous professional development (CPD) for leaders permeates downwards, positively impacting the whole organisation.

Palvinder Singh is seen from his shoulders upwards, standing in front of a blurred classroom background.
Palvinder Singh, CEO and Principal of Kirklees College

Describe your career journey towards becoming Principal/CEO of Kirklees college.

It wasn’t by design. I wanted to contribute to improving student experiences of learning and, through this, contribute to the broader community. In my faith, we have a term – Seva – which describes service to others. I’m always driven by equity,  and fairness for all. There is no better place to work than in education if you want to contribute to social mobility. Within education, you have the opportunity to influence, and to transform lives and generations.

In terms of my own career, I was a head of department, then progressed through the senior leadership team, working in a number of colleges. I then realised I could apply to become Principal, and that’s how I got to be in this role.

How have you and your staff at Kirklees engaged with the ETF’s leadership offer, and what benefits have you gained from participating in our programmes?

Leaders at Kirklees College have taken part in various ETF leadership programmes including Leading from the Middle and Preparing for CEO. I’ve attended the Further Education Strategic Leadership Programme (FESLP) for Principals and CEOs. One of the most important frameworks covered in that leadership course was values, and how they are the glue that holds an organisation together.

Embedding our values has been something I’ve led on at Kirklees. Our success in working together across a multi-site college under three common values – kindness, unity and excellence – was recognised as a key aspect that we do well in our latest Ofsted report. Receiving a ‘Good’ Ofsted rating for Kirklees has been one of the proudest moments of my career. I’m most proud of working with people who share those college values, and who make such a contribution to the communities we serve. That core focus on values is probably one of the biggest things that the ETF’s programmes have given me and my organisation.

What other learnings stood out to you from the ETF’s leadership programmes?

Beyond the importance of values, two other main components of the FESLP stood out to me. The first was adaptive leadership, and our need to address challenges that are complex and difficult to identify that haven’t been addressed because we spend so much time in the technical space. The concept of adaptive leadership was eye-opening and useful in highlighting how we address systemic issues that require multi-layered, joint working – not just across an organisation, but across the whole system.

Another key learning for me was around the power of doubt. We looked at compelling international research demonstrating how you use the power of doubt to help make progress. Brené Brown’s work in this space is incredible, and the focus on this area gives me a lot of hope and optimism for future leadership, not just within the UK, but across the world.

How does professional development at the leadership level of your organisation impact your staff and college more widely?

I believe culture is set at the top of the organisation and permeates downwards. Personally, I don’t think of myself as Principal or CEO – I see myself as a student, first and foremost. I’m an FE learner – all of us who work in education are learners. Learning about yourself is so important in the journey of learning – and CPD is critically important for us all. This is especially true in today’s context, where we’re seeing the fourth industrial revolution of the digitised information age. 

Any final thoughts?

I think the ETF has played such an important role in improving further education within the country. I’ve gone from doing the leadership Preparing for CEO programme to doing the ETF’s programme for CEOs, and it’s helped me understand who I am. Unpacking the values of kindness – starting with compassion and transparency towards yourself first – is something that the leadership programmes have really supported.

For more information on the ETF’s leadership development programmes, funded by the Department for Education, visit our leadership webpage.