Glenn Wright joined City College Norwich in 1995 after gaining a business and finance HND and then spending several years qualifying and practising as a chartered certified accountant. He currently teaches students taking the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification.
After A-levels at Boston College and an HND at what is now Northampton University, I’d got halfway through my part-time accountancy training in my first job before opting to finish the course full-time student at City College Norwich. The year I qualified, the economy took a nosedive and so I returned to Boston College to improve my computer skills to boost my CV. When I said I was qualified, one of my former lecturers persuaded me to start teaching the AAT syllabus as they were short on accountancy teachers. Students liked my approach, I loved teaching, and a few months later I landed a lecturing post back at City College Norwich on its Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) course. My girlfriend, now wife, also happened to live in Norwich!
I’m AAT course leader, focusing on financial accounts and taxation that includes partnerships, companies, sole traders, accounting standards and related laws. While at the college I’ve taught almost everything in accountancy covering GCSEs, A-levels, professional courses and degrees. I’ve also been a pathway leader for accounting and finance on our degree course and programme manager for professional courses in HE. I teach around 90 students each week aged from 16 to 60, including mostly school-leavers on our new level 2, 3 and 4 apprenticeship courses; career changers; and those wanting to progress at work, many of whom are commercial fee-payers. They are a joy to teach - they want to be there and they listen! Most become qualified and join the AAT once they also have work experience.
I get to college around 7.45am, open emails, do admin, and get my notes together for our first 90-120 minute session at 9am. We break at around 10.30, have a second session till lunchtime and one more after lunch. Then it’s dealing with admin, more emails and gathering notes to take home to prepare for the next day.
All AAT exams are taken online but must be sat in college as they are professional qualifications. Exams may be taken whenever students are judged ready. Results and feedback are usually received almost immediately as papers are automatically marked online. Students also undergo synoptic assessments, marked by AAT examiners, which reveal their overall understanding of all modules covered during each of the three levels (2-4).
Showing empathy, especially to new students, is key as many are nervous starting out. During enrolment and induction, I try to reassure them, saying we know just how scary it can be for those returning to education after 10-15 years away. Level 4, in particular, involves some tricky subject matter, so we’ve been supporting students remotely by producing explanatory videos on our Blackboard virtual learning environment focused on areas they have emailed that they don’t understand. Our students have welcomed this.
Classroom material is pretty much prescribed, though I often bring in anecdotal scenarios based on past experience. I attend an annual AAT conference to learn about national issues, how the AAT is developing its qualification, and what other college lecturers are doing. Apprenticeships are the latest thing we’ve introduced and I’ve spent considerable time getting the courses up and running.
One is learning how apprenticeships work. The AAT has brought in different types of qualification, with a ‘standard’ version the most recent. But the association is good at answering any queries and runs a helpline, backed up by its network of regional account (business) managers. Accountancy is a dynamic sort of qualification - tax and accountancy regulations are constantly changing. The curriculum has to mirror this and I have to keep up to date. Like many colleges, we are now also grappling with how best to teach accountancy online.
It’s seeing the transformation of nervous level 2 students into confident accountants when they finish their level 4 exams. The grateful emails we get make it all worthwhile.
It’s helping people - you can take a sometimes complex subject like cashflows (a level-4 accounting standard) and ask students to read through material before next week’s session. Often, when asked about it later, they’ll admit they still don’t have a clue yet after 90 minutes in class it makes sense to them - and for a lecturer that is very satisfying.
1) Know your subject thoroughly. Students are quick to sense if you don’t. Discuss material at their level, particularly level 2, and break anything difficult into bite-sized chunks.
2) Patience and empathy. Get to know your audience and adapt what you are teaching to their level. You must know how and where to pitch it - and much of that skill comes from experience. I go through lots of examples on the whiteboard and show them how to do it. They work through examples afterwards and learn by doing.
3) Sense of humour. Telling the odd joke at your expense certainly helps to build good rapport with your students!
4) Be approachable. We are all working together towards the end goal of qualifying. No question is a stupid question. Students need to know they can trust you and not be made fun of.
You have to be a qualified AAT or ACCA accountant and either have a teacher training qualification - PGCE or DTLLS (level 5 Diploma in Education and Training) - or study for one part-time when you begin teaching at a college.
Changing people’s lives and just helping people … students may come from a job they don’t enjoy or do not get paid properly for and then, three years later, you see them leave as competent, confident accountants with a professional career, a good salary and potentially great prospects.