I followed my passion for creative design by taking an art foundation course at Swindon College, before gaining a graphic design degree through Cranfield University. I enjoyed helping out other students in my second year and my lecturers said why not give teaching a go? After graduating I freelanced for two years during which I also studied for a PGCE teaching qualification at the University of the West of England. I then got my first teaching post in graphic design at the City of Bristol College.
As the department head, I’m responsible for approximately 600 16-18s studying subjects including art and design, creative media and IT/computing across levels 1-4. I also oversee around 200 adult learners following courses in interior design, computing, photography, video-editing, fashion design and computer networking/communications.
At the start of this new academic year, I have spent many hours in and around classrooms doing learning walks, getting to know students, supporting the induction that students need, tweaking timetables and seeking out suitable learning routes, often with outside agencies, for late arrivals who have included students who are classified as 'high needs'.
I also monitor attendance and punctuality of new starters, ensure students meet the standards we have set — and make sure positive interventions are in place to reaffirm standards. I have to tweak curriculum planning if any course is over-enrolled, check all courses are standardised to comply with the awarding organisation's requirements, ensure all students are registered for exams, and update the senior leadership team on enrolment numbers and targets.
As the months go by, I'll switch more to curriculum planning for the following year and we’ll engage with external employers within the sector. We use employer feedback and labour market intelligence to shape our vocational courses to meet the needs of local businesses.
I have to check constantly that we remain within budget – particularly with art and design-based courses which rely on many consumable materials. In the spring term much of my focus is on supporting students with university interviews and focusing on progression (which is followed up in the summer when we help prepare level 1 and 2 students for next year’s level 2 and 3 courses respectively).
In the lead-up to Easter, I check where we are in achievements and throughout the year review our performance with the support of our quality team. We monitor students at key points during the year, undertaking academic progress reviews and measuring against target grades. I and my team ensure students are on track to achieve these standards and allow them sufficient time to reach them; I also work with my team to ensure we keep high-achieving students stretched and challenged. I’m constantly working with external employers on setting up live projects for students or arranging work placements.
I held the first of a series of inductions with student groups that will run over the next few weeks of this term. I’ve spent considerable time overseeing our advice and guidance sessions for new students, providing impartial guidance to those unsure about what they want to do. I have also worked closely with our timetabling team to tweak schedules to reflect final student numbers and held catch-up one-to-one meetings with staff.
I have met with a couple of employers about projects for this year, discussing how we we could shape our courses to reflect company training needs and their skills gaps; talking through the safety aspects of student work placements; and encouraging employers to come in to advise students about working in industry.
Funding is tight and affects many activities. We have to revise our budget during the year due to the funding models so we are always monitoring our costs and thinking ahead based on the information we have on our student numbers. We also work with disengaged students entering college after mixed experiences in their education. Clearly, they want to do something but don’t know what. Equally, we don’t want them to be labelled as disengaged so we aim to spend whatever time it takes to help inspire them to turn things round and target university or landing a good job/apprenticeship.
When I took on responsibility for computing and IT provision, we worked hard to respond more to Bristol’s needs and support wider learning routes. This led us to review our offer and provide IT courses linked to a greater range of development routes into areas such as programming and network and cybersecurity. We have built up the computer science route, introducing elements such as game and mobile app development. This has led to improved recruitment levels and outcomes, particularly around our level 3 offer – a big qualification with a lot of challenging content and material.
We now also have governors with strong professional links to the hi-tech and software sectors. Our local enterprise partnership has identified hi-tech creative and digital as two of our region’s five key priority areas, and we’re constantly ensuring we don't duplicate the offer of other providers and colleges in the region.
Although 70% of jobs still require graduates, employers say they are less concerned about grades and from which university and more about what skills applicants have learnt on their degree course and what their portfolio contains. Our emphasis is on more practical courses – we are constantly reviewing our own higher education offer.
You need a broad understanding of every subject in your remit; you don’t have to be able to teach them all but you do need an ability to develop ideas. Being a graphic designer overlaps with some of the other technologies and gives me a strong sense of design that can influence all creative subjects.
Aside from my graphic design degree and PGCE teaching qualification, I recently took a qualification designed for FE middle managers. It included running a project alongside the course – my course theme was curriculum design and development – an area I’m quite passionate about. I have been grateful for the opportunities my college leadership team has given me to undertake professional development courses covering areas such as health and safety, safeguarding and staff training.
It has to be the students. It's about being able to give them hope – regardless of their background or experience – and offer them the chance to develop their learning and skills. That way, they can gain the confidence to progress and achieve, whether it be to university, finding a suitable job or starting their own business.–
Interview by Richard Doughty