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By Katie Stafford, Deputy Principal at New City College Hackney Campus and Research Further Scholar

A wicked problem is generally defined as a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve. Often, they are problems that have many interdependent factors which are incomplete and in flux. They can manifest in different ways, to different people and in different locations. Writers claim that as they are so difficult to solve, it may be more productive to look at ways to improve the issues of a wicked problem than aim to resolve it.

A review of the academic literature from 1997 through to the present identifies changes in the role and perception of middle managers over the past 27 years. While the earlier research shows that middle managers were feeling the emotional stress of being “caught in the middle” of mediating the changes in policy with teaching staff and recalibrating their professional values, more recently, the research indicates that the role continues to be highly demanding as these managers balance carefully the needs to administer the predictable system of accountability and the on-demand and sometimes unpredictable needs of their teaching team and students. This often plays into the background of achieving a good life and work balance due to excessive and unmanageable workloads. The literature review therefore suggests that in 27, years we have not yet “cracked” the FE workload conundrum.

The issue of needing to manage administrative and people-based role responsibilities could easily be extended to a significant number of job roles within a college. Sir Bernard O’Connell, in his 2005 book entitled “Creating an Outstanding College” claimed that the strong focus on organisational culture and values underpinned the success of Runshaw College in achieving its grade 1. In achieving a change in culture, staff at the college had identified that they wanted leaders to be caring, to feel valued and respected. Arguably, a lot, and equally nothing, has changed in sector over the past 28 years. The need to actively demonstrate care for staff and in turn, to support the delivery of outstanding education is an important and enduring one. Especially given the wider issues of the post-pandemic period.

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