Posted on November 27th, 2023
Bill Jones is Executive Principal, Leeds City College and Deputy CEO of Luminate Education Group, which includes Leeds City College, Harrogate College, Keighley College and Leeds Conservatoire. Bill tells us about his journey into leadership and talks about the wider system improvements needed in FE to support learners at any age to excel.
My FE leadership journey
I am passionate about teaching, and that for me was my route into leadership. I trained as a teacher, wanted to be a teacher – and I still am a teacher.
For me, it was the realisation that I wanted to do more to support students – so that I can enable them to progress, achieve and go into that next step. I wanted to do that on a bigger scale, so now I’m the principal of Leeds City College, which has 20,000 students, my aim is to have a big impact on many lives and communities as well as the economy of Leeds.
The most exciting thing about leadership is getting to work with other brilliant leaders. So not only the wonderful staff within the college, it’s also about connecting with the civic leaders within the region, from local authority and universities to large employers, health trusts and politicians. Collectively we can work on shared objectives to support our region. Everything from reducing carbon emissions and contributing to net zero as well as boosting jobs and skills and contributing to economic growth. There is a real strength in what we can contribute by working collaboratively, and I very much value being part of that wider system.
The importance of CPD
The biggest challenges of leadership are keeping your staff motivated and engaged when we are all facing big issues such as the impacts of the cost of living crisis and still seeing the impact of post-COVID on students’ and staff mental health.
Obviously funding is the forever challenge and ensuring that we can attract and retain the best staff with the right skills is so important.
That is why we invest a lot in supporting the professional development and career progression of our staff – it plays a vital role in building a motivated and engaging staff team. Our staff are the ones that make the change for our students. If I can keep staff excited and enthusiastic about their job, it ensures the very best learning outcomes for our students.
Stepping up to leadership
I am always looking for opportunities to support my staff to progress. It is really important that we motivate more people, particularly from a diverse range of backgrounds, to take on leadership roles.
We do that through mentorship, advocacy, removing barriers, providing positive role models as well as providing secondment opportunities and encouraging staff to go on the leadership courses run by the Education and Training Foundation. We are also keen to make jobs as flexible as we can – looking at flexible working hours, job-share and hybrid working where we can and encouraging people who work part time to step up to leadership roles.
Inclusion is incredibly important because we need our leadership, our workforce and our teaching staff to represent the students that we teach in the communities that we serve.
I passionately believe that the more diverse your workforce, the more diverse your leadership teams, the better ideas you’re going to get and the more creative they’re going to be.
You also need to look for creative ways of removing barriers so that you offer an inclusive working environment. Whether that’s flexible working or childcare, we need to be much more creative about ensuring that we keep more staff in the workplace and attract more diversity into our leadership roles.
Leading for system change
Everyone of us has a role to play in contributing to and shaping the whole of the FE and Skills system. We have been talking a lot in my college recently about ‘systems thinking’ and what this means for us as a sector.
Because we are able to understand our regions and our communities well, a decision made in Whitehall or in London or in the South won’t necessarily suit and serve the communities of the North or West Yorkshire or Leeds.
That’s why it’s so important that we are able to work collectively, to have a voice and have input into those decision-making processes that we can control ourselves. The more people that input into key fundamental decisions like that, the better and the more workable policy is likely to be. And ultimately the skills system is going to work better for everybody.
Find out more
Find out more about our Together we transform initiative, and view other case studies, highlighting the transformative impact that the further education and skills sector has on lives across the UK.