In year 11 I had to do some work experience, so applied for a two-week placement in a hair salon and I really enjoyed the social side of it. I didn’t get the grades I wanted at school so I applied for an apprenticeship at the same salon and haven’t looked back. I was hairdresser-trained first and was inspired by the TV programme, The Salon. My female clientele started recommending me to their husbands and that’s how I got into barbering! I was there 10 years before I first shadowed lecturers at Solihull college in 2011, worked there part-time for two years and then joined South and City College full-time in 2013.
It was tough trying to transfer my industrial experience to a teaching and learning setting, like working out how to plan and organise a lesson, and how to motivate learners. I left the industry because I wanted to support students; I’d really enjoyed helping apprentices in the salon. But shadowing my colleagues, teaching observations and feedback and support from the other tutors helped me adapt. I moved over to teaching thanks to one of my clients with a contact at the college. While still working as a barber, I also initially taught unpaid and in my own time to gain teaching experience - I wanted to do both so I could keep my hand in in the industry.
As programme lead on the barbering course, I liaise with management and the other barbering lecturers. I try to promote consistency and be positive, and I collaborate closely with our maths and English lecturers for those students re-sitting GCSEs. I designed the curriculum based on our City and Guilds technical qualification course content, which included the cutting programme, the order in which it had to be delivered, embedding English in a big way because of the new apprenticeship standards, written exams (similar to GCSEs), how to write a written response and what the ‘command’ verbs are in exam questions that are also used in barbering.
It’s always about teaching and supporting students, ensuring they are motivated, on track and progressing. I usually get in between 8-8.30am to check I have prepared a salon or a theory room for a session. Typical teaching hours are 9am-5pm, which mirrors industry practice. Courses are split into two parts - theoretical knowledge versus practical classroom sessions; they last 2-3 hours depending on learners’ ability levels. Technically, a commercial salon will run for four hours before lunch, while a training session lasts three - we give demos of the latest trends and cutting techniques, talk about products, services and particularly life experiences when you become a barber, which engage the students a lot more than theory sessions . . . they always want to know what it’s like working commercially, how to set up a business, the types of insurance needed to operate, and then of course going through traditional cutting methods and what styles you can get now. That’s how we set up the first 10 weeks of our courses. We have such a range of students, some with no experience while others have done barbering and want to set up a business.
Our students work on real, live clients in a normal barber’s shop. Our new hi-tech salon of two years includes TV monitors, cameras set up for online lessons, a modern interior design, big open windows and space designed like a high-end commercial barber’s shop. We get a lot of passing trade just because of the salon’s appearance alone; the public don’t think we are a training centre but a typical high street salon! That’s what we try to instil in the students.
We have a massive clientele. Our average group size is around 22 students, who each work on a minimum of two clients per session. We’ve sometimes had to turn people away - we had more clients than students. Since I first began here, we’ve gone from 12 to around 150 students in barbering alone: we have seven level 2 groups,three level 3 groups, a level 1 group, an introduction course to hairdressing and barbering, and a group for students with English as a second language. I teach around 80 students across 11 sessions each week (23.5 hours’ teaching in total) - a typical pattern on, say, Mondays is 9-11am (theory), break, another theory session from 11.30-2.30, a late lunch break, and then working with clients from 3.30 till 6pm.
The barbering syllabus first covers healthy and safety, eg ensuring students know how to operate a salon safely in a working environment (wearing the correct PPE (personal protection equipment, safe disposal of blades and tools, chairs cleaned down first after each customer, tools sterilised before the next practical activity etc). Then we move on to consultation with clients, how to talk to and advise them, including aftercare advice, identifying their hair type, face shape, hair growth patterns, hair, skin and scalp conditions or even disorders. The scientific element includes understanding how the hair and skin works. Shampoo and conditioning covers massage techniques, correct use of products for different hair and scalp conditions, caring for your tools, different angles of cutting hair, haircutting shapes and styles and how they affect different hair types, facial hair, blow-drying . . . there’s a lot!.
We’ve halved the number of students in the salon at any one time. They have to wear face masks and visors and keep a 2m distance in addition to wearing their normal aprons and gloves. They can’t, for example, work side by side or opposite. Engaging our students online can be very challenging as they are generally hands-on people. Some cannot access lessons online and so the college has sent out laptops and also supplied printed materials.
Planning activities designed for use online like using virtual videos that record me doing hair cuts; I break down the activity into sections on the video that is then sent out to students. I like Google Classrooms, the teaching and learning platform that lets me see students typing on a live document and rapidly pick up if they are on the right track or if they have actually started the task! I’ve set up online documents that the students can edit and enter their responses. I also use Cahoot, an online knowledge check tool.
They go for the practical element, working on real life clients; they are always asking: “When can we cut?” They love my feedback and gaining knowledge about the industry which I pass on to them when relating my own experiences.
New students often assume they will just be cutting hair, shaving the face, blow-drying hair, etc, without realising there is a written, theoretical element - this is often the most challenging part of the course. So we have to differentiate lessons, break down what type of exam questions students will face, and teach how to identify the different types of questions - so we embed English and barbering into the course at the same time. As a C&G moderator I’m very aware of the answers C&G examiners seek. Within two years of joining the college, I and my colleagues saw students improve results by 28%. We added a two-hour English development technical lesson to the timetable that focused on exam approach, techniques, revision strategies, looking at target questions, and studying C&G reports on national performance trends.
Being made excellence lead by my college which meant being recognised by the college and then being able to pass on my knowledge to other teachers. Plus my appointment as a C&G course moderator on a national scale and being recognised for my area of expertise.
Good communication skills, sense of humour, good understanding of students; being thick-skinned, approachable, empathetic and creative
A minimum of five years’ industry experience; level 5 qualified teacher status (levels 3, 4, 5); an assessor’s award; and the industry qualifications in hairdressing (levels 2, 3) and barbering (levels 2, 3)
Be enthusiastic - it’s key in keeping students motivated and engaged; have fun with the course and don’t be afraid to experiment; don’t be too serious or too lenient; and have a positive personality and work ethic.
How would you motivate students to achieve their best?
Knowing my job will be different every day. I just love the FE environment, the people, the college, the students . . .