Day in the life of … a Curriculum Manager.

Maria Harrop

Maria Harrop is a curriculum manager for retail and commercial enterprise (hair, beauty and catering) at Darlington College, where she first trained as a student and then taught part-time while working in the beauty industry. Since 1991 she has worked as a full-time teacher and then manager at the college

What’s kept you at the same college?

I’ve always enjoyed being part of such a large establishment, constantly striving to hit new targets and using my ideas to motivate my staff. The different roles I’ve filled and the courses I’ve taken to progress to higher ranks have always given me a fresh interest in the sector, although government initiatives such as T-levels are making the job more demanding. You can never be complacent or relaxed – there’s always something to work on or improve. That’s why I enjoy it.

What’s special about your job?

It’s job satisfaction; I’m passionate about my work. I love managing people and learning to organize departments that I’m not so familiar with. Heading any department demands the same rigour: you have to ensure students get a good experience, that the teaching and learning are of high quality, and that you use the same yardsticks to assess all departments on retention and achievement levels. The only major difference lies in what the subject tutors deliver.

What are the challenges?

A key one for me was understanding the catering industry – initially well out of my comfort zone! More generally, it’s about how I can help a department improve its success – making a difference to staff so they too can make a difference. Some departments have a different culture about how they do things so I need to get around that by talking to staff, listening to their views, motivating them and getting them on board. Then you can make changes.

How have you made a difference?

I’ve developed different areas and helped my staff turn hair and beauty, education and catering departments from an Ofsted grade 3 ranking into a grade 1, eg. 14 members (64%) of my staff recently achieved a grade 1 in teaching-learning observation, which is unusually high. Making improvements and reaching goals is what I like most about the job. I enjoy fixing problems, analyzing and reviewing data and working out why certain problems are arising, then solving them with new strategies – it could be through performance management, staff coaching, or maybe sorting out a timetabling clash. I strongly believe in encouraging staff to develop themselves and maybe study for leadership qualifications. 

What’s a typical day?

In September I’m focused on checking that our students are settled in and staff are happy. Otherwise, I could be doing one-to-one staff coaching, running meetings with my staff where we discuss data, attendance levels and any other concerns. I also attend college-wide management meetings with all the other curriculum managers and the vice-principal to discuss issues such as marketing, strategies, employer engagement, English and maths provision, quality issues, curriculum matters and progress levels.
I also scrutinize what our data is telling us about the quality of our teaching and learning, which may require presentations from me; review the annual budget; or check how much income my departments are earning from our on-campus retail outlets – the students run a beauty salon, hair salon and restaurant that are popular with the public.

What did your work include last week?

Interviewing candidates for a head of the kitchen post with the assistant principal, nine one-to-one staff meetings, chairing a curriculum management meeting, running three team meetings and undertaking two probation appraisals.

What sort of experience/qualifications do you need?

To enter teaching and management, you need to spend a minimum five years in industry –  it’s not essential but desirable. We take trainee tutors on placement – I’d recommend working first in industry and fitting in a few hours part-time teaching as your industrial experience grows (I was lucky enough to be offered part-time work at the college when I’d finished studying – I was good at helping my fellow students, apparently). You could take a part-time teaching qualification at the same time – I took a Teacher’s Certificate and then an advanced City and Guilds Further and Adult Teachers Certificate during four full-time years in the industry.
Once on the teaching ladder, do as many relevant management qualifications as you can – normally available at your college (I’ve taken four at college and recently gained an MBA). This way you will have the right skill set when a management post becomes vacant. 

Any recent milestones achieved by your students?

Many go on to start their own businesses, cruise around the world on ships and work in top hotels and spas. Last year two catering students, respectively, won a national inter-college competition and came runner-up in a contest among all other colleges in the north-east. Another came to us needing a lot of support but ploughed through his levels 1-3 and is now doing exceptionally well working in a Scottish motel. Last year one of our apprentice chefs, Tomas Wood, went on the US TV show, Cake Boss, after challenging celebrity chef Bartolo "Buddy" Valastro Jr to a bake-off during an earlier college visit to New York.

What’s gets you up in the morning?

It’s the close working relationship I have with a tight-knit team who thrive on working hard. I love seeing our students develop from raw youngsters into professional workers; many arrive at college facing all sorts of problems at home and elsewhere, so it’s particularly rewarding to be able to help them battle through their difficulties and fulfill their dreams.

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