December 7, 2018
Back in the late 1980s, there was a lack of awareness of what the further education (FE) sector could offer. A college was largely viewed as a place where you’d go to get your technical qualifications in preparation for a career in manufacturing or engineering.
Initially, I wasn’t aware that you could study for a teaching qualification at Gateshead College but when I found out, I jumped at the opportunity. Going down the traditional route of a degree followed by a PGCE qualification wasn’t ideal for me; back then, I had a young daughter to look after and in those days there was little flexibility – you had to be at university 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Gateshead College offered me the chance to enrol on a part-time teacher training course while teaching GCSE English. I must have made a good impression as I was offered a full-time lecturing job in 1990, I completed a PGCE in 1999 and I’ve been at the college in various roles ever since. I’ll always look back at my time in teaching with great fondness; I enjoyed being able to make a positive difference to the lives of so many people.
Gateshead College and the FE sector generally have seen radical change in the last few years. Our college has grown into a £52 million turnover business that employs 650 staff. It’s run as a financially stable business that continues to have a positive impact on the lives of students, employers and communities. It’s also seen as a credible organisation that influences the regional and national skills agendas.
Perhaps the biggest change I’ve seen is the shift in culture and mindset. Since I’ve been principal, I’ve encouraged every member of staff to believe that this college could become the outstanding organisation that it is today. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance but it paid off; one of my proudest moments was seeing the college achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted in 2015.
The other big change has been the advent of new technologies, which has enabled us to improve our management information systems and generally become a more efficient organisation.
The FE sector has come under greater pressure. Colleges have had to work with reduced budgets, which has brought some tough challenges. It’s all about the survival of the fittest; colleges that aren’t resilient or adaptable enough have fallen by the wayside.
One thing hasn’t changed, though – our focus has always been, and will continue to be, on helping people gain skills that are useful to employers.
It’s difficult to predict the future with any great certainty, especially with Brexit looming on the horizon, but I’m confident that colleges will continue to play an important role in developing the next generation of skilled workers. The most successful colleges will be the ones that engage with businesses, understand what their skills needs are and help them capitalise on the opportunities provided by new developments in the digital world.
The increasing adoption of technology will result in a more agile workforce with people working in a more flexible way. However, I don’t envisage a time when all learning will be done remotely; people are social beings who want to inspire and be inspired by others. A college environment gives them the opportunity to do just that.