Professional Standards for Middle Leaders: Developing a thriving curriculum

Bushra Iqbal portrait

Bushra Iqbal, Head of Faculty for Business, Finance, Digital, Teacher Training, Access and HE at Southwark College, discusses her experiences and how these have been used to work with employers, students and her team to create a thriving curriculum offer. She also explains how the Professional Standards for Middle Leaders align with the skills and knowledge she has drawn on in her career to date.

I chose to work in FE because I wanted to work in an education sector that facilitates social mobility. This is one of my key motivators; working in a sector that provides opportunities to change our students’ lives.

Working in FE there is a need to be flexible and proactive, and this extends to managers. I think it’s important to be flexible when managing my team’s work. I am mindful that they have things happening outside of work. I have found that by being supportive, my team were less likely to have sickness absence and more productive and motivated at work.

I role model and demonstrate the practice I expect from those I line manage. I ensure I maintain my capability as a teacher and have an open-door approach to my classroom and encourage people to observe my teaching whenever they wish. If someone is struggling in their teaching practice, I take the time to work with them and provide practical feedback and ideas to assist them in developing their practice.

A key element of my role is ensuring the provision I lead offers a high-quality learning experience. Furthermore, what we teach needs to be current and appealing. When reviewing the curriculum offered by my department, I research what students and employers need. This helps to inform how my team shape our curriculum and ensures we recruit well. This is not just about demand and supply; I consider a range of considerations from curriculum content and structure, to methods of delivery and how students get to college.

I learnt early in my career as a curriculum leader that financial awareness is essential. I had not previously had any finance training and so sought to develop my knowledge in this area by undertaking online short courses in finance, meeting with key members from the finance team and asking lots of questions. This knowledge was then used it to inform how I plan and develop a new curriculum, as well as sustaining existing provision. This is really important to me to ensure my staff have job security and that learners can continue to access high quality provision.

I currently lead on HE at my current college, which includes attending external forums to represent my institution and ensuring that plans for its future needs – and those of its students – are properly considered as we establish our strategic vision. This requires me to be mindful of external policies including funding for HE, because we needed an offer that is right for students as they have a limited fund of student finance they can apply for.

I identified a need for an alternative approach to higher education in the FE sector in my area (London). I presented my initial idea to my mentor from the ETF’s Leading from the Middle programme. Their feedback and support encouraged me to present my ideas to my institution, which then led to a pilot which was welcomed in my institution and led to interest from other institutions that we collaborate with.

I have now drafted a plan for the development of HE in my college, helping to develop and shape a curriculum that meets both student and employer needs. In order to do this, I have worked with senior leaders, students, employers, and the Linking London (HE forum for London HE provision) group. Furthermore, I have presented papers to FE/HE forums and received feedback that has informed my ideas and helped to develop and shape my work in this area.

If I were to give one recommendation to current and future leaders, it would be to invest in yourself by working with a formal mentor. The impact on my confidence, progression and strategic outlook
of doing so has been tangible.