Improving learning outcomes through inspiring leadership

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At Bridgend College, inspiring leadership has had a positive impact across all areas of the college. Managers understand how they contribute to the future success of the college and staff are supported to innovate and take risks.

Number of learners: 2,600
Age range: 16+
Date of inspection: 29 February 2016

Brief contextual information about provider/partnership:

Bridgend College is a further education college with approximately 2,600 full-time learners.  It employs around 600 staff.  In terms of full-time learners, the college is one of the smaller further education colleges in Wales.

Context and background to excellent/sector-leading practice:

In 2013, the leadership team faced a wide range of challenges including financial cuts, learner outcomes, staff morale and restoring confidence with partners and wider community.   

The current principal started at Bridgend College in 2013, which provided an opportunity to review processes and structure to meet the challenges the college faced.  Since 2012-2013, the college’s further education recurrent funding from the Welsh Government has reduced by 15%, which, when inflationary and other demands were added, has become a 24% cut in real terms.  The college has taken difficult, but necessary, decisions to adjust to the increasing costs of staff pay and pensions and an unprecedented cut in funding.  This has led to two large [voluntary] redundancy programmes, which have been managed very well, avoiding compulsory redundancies while maintaining excellent employee relations.

Following the appointment of the new principal in 2013, the college embarked on a radical improvement plan.  The governing body and senior leadership team (SLT) were clear that staff and learners would need to be fully engaged in the process of change. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity identified as excellent/sector-leading practice:

Leadership is one of the key priorities in the learning and development strategy and the college has invested significantly in the development programme for all leaders, with the aim of enhancing the skills of leaders to engage learners and staff across the college.  This has included bespoke training with external providers and all senior managers have attended a challenging residential course.  Guest speakers frequently attend management meetings to share best practice from the public and private sectors.  A management competency framework has also been developed, which complements the objectives of the strategic plan.

A series of staff workshops established the new mission and values of the college.  The new college mission statement, ‘Be all that you can be’ came directly from staff and is reinforced in all briefings by the principal.  Our key values are to be:

  • People Centred
  • Inspirational
  • Passionate
  • Innovative

The workshops have led to a more streamlined strategic plan where priorities are clear and the clarity in the strategic plan filters through the organisation.  The strategic plan now focuses on three key areas of achievement – ‘the three Es’ – The three Es stands for to be Excellent,  Engaging and Efficient.  Each area has only three objectives – a total of nine. 

Communication across the organisation is particularly strong, although this is a challenge across a multi-site college.  The meeting structure supports the culture of high challenge and high support.  The principal and other managers hold regular workshops with a range of learner groups and their feedback reinforces the positive messages in the Welsh Government Learner Voice survey.  The issues raised by learners are considered regularly by managers and feedback is a key priority.

Regular workshops are held by the principal and SLT with staff from across the college to ensure that all staff are involved in setting the direction of the college.  This also ensures a two way flow of information between the principal, SLT and staff.  Governors regularly attend staff workshops and this affords the opportunity for staff to meet governors, and for governors to understand the views of staff in an open and transparent manner.  Industrial relations are very strong and a great deal of time has been spent in developing a strong working relationship with the unions.

What impact has this work had on the quality of provision and learners’ standards?

The mission and values of the organisation have helped create a positive culture at the college and ensures that decision-making is focused on the best interests of current and future learners.  A culture of “high challenge / high support” permeates throughout the organisation.

The impact of leadership on quality of provision and learners standards has been significant.  The college has improved on a wide range of key performance indicators.  These include positive three year trends in successful completion rates for learners, from the lowest in the sector to amongst the highest.  In terms of financial performance, the college has moved from a deficit of £1.6m in 2012-2013 to a surplus of £67k in 2014-2015, despite a real terms funding cut and redundancy costs.

The staff survey results are evidence of the positive culture and a people centred ethos.  Despite a period of severe cuts in staffing, expectations in the college remain high and staff have risen to the new challenges, as is evident in the improvement in both outcomes and financial performance.