Former fish farmer and now lecturer and programme manager for marine science, Craig Baldwin reveals the value of FE’s unique dual role in pastoral and academic support played out in an inspiring example of student progress at Falmouth Marine School, Cornwall College
Just occasionally FE lecturers encounter mature students who take to a subject like they have never known anything else.
Craig Baldwin first met Emily Hardisty (see Inspiring Student Journeys) at a Falmouth Marine School open day when she applied for a degree place in marine science.
Flexible approach to A-levels
Her problem was no A-levels. Dire family circumstances had left her as the main carer for her mentally ill father, with no opportunity for full-time education until she entered secondary school at the end of year 9. Despite that, she had worked tirelessly to catch up and pass all her GCSEs with her peer group two years later. She left school to take on a hotel job to continue caring and applied to Falmouth several years later shortly after her father had died.
Like many an FE college, Falmouth took a flexible approach. Emily did need A-level standard qualifications to take a degree so the college offered her a place on its two-year level 3 BTec course in marine biology and ecology. She accepted . . .
Falmouth Marine School is a small, close-knit unit, where everyone knows everyone. Craig Baldwin, like many of his colleagues, worked for years in the marine sector (mostly the fishing industry in his case) before joining the college some 12 years ago. He still runs his own consultancy outside college hours which keeps hi in touch with current practise in the industry.
Mutual respect key to college success
“I’ve had a tutorial role for 20 years,” says Craig. “So when Emily and her fellow students share their problems, I’ll often recognise the issues and draw on past experience to advise. We ensure all students make the best decisions according to circumstances but we leave the ultimate decisions to them.”
The idea of mutual respect runs through all activities. “We’ll respect students as adult learners and hopefully develop the same level of respect back from them. If I or my class has an issue with anything, I feel I can always discuss it with my students honestly and openly.”
What really grabs his students’ interest? Relating everything back to real-world experiences, says Craig. “If we talk about the taxonomy of a jellyfish, say, we’ll discuss why jellyfish are important to the environment and to us socially and then develop that further.
Falmouth alumni work with students
“Yesterday, for instance, I was discussing with level 4 foundation-year degree students the bio-technical applications of cnidarians [around 9,000 species including jellyfish, corals and sea anenomes] and their role in carbon sequestration [capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide]. With the development of new methods of deep-sea exploration, we’re discovering a whole new world of jellyfish.”
What does a marine science lecturer enjoy most? For Craig, it’s playing a part in his students’ progress. “It’s about continually being able to motivate students’ awareness. As a small college catering for some 120 students, we maintain close contact with everyone, including our alumni who we continue to help wherever we can. Many are studying for doctorates and PhDs, running their own businesses (eg food, aquaculture), or working with conservation authorities; they often help support other students coming through.”
Tough competition for places
Falmouth offers a unique set of specialist courses on the marine and natural environment with a close focus on sustainability; it draws students from across the UK and mainland Europe to study on its marine biology foundation degree course.
At a small but popular institution, competition for places is tough. Standards are high, says Craig. “Certainly, level 4 and 5 students work to a higher level than many other degrees I have taught on.”
The school also offers single-year level 2 courses to students who lack the GCSE grades they need to progress. They will then often go on to a level 3 (A-level equivalent) BTec and a degree.
Emily came in at level 3 with just over two years' secondary schooling but with a clutch of GCSEs to show for it. How has she fared so far? Again, as in her earlier home life, she reversed the odds by gaining top marks in every module of her first year BTEC. Her performance led the college to push her straight through to the foundation degree course - and no A-levels!
‘Someone who works incredibly hard’
“A very dedicated student who works incredibly hard” is how Craig describes Emily. And not only is she individually doing well academically, says Craig, but she’s been an integral part of developing the profile of her year of some 18 students (student numbers are kept comparatively low so staff can offer as much tutorial and pastoral support as possible).
Craig singles out Emily’s uncanny ability to understand new concepts and then develop and express them in ways that others can better understand. Her presentation using innovative techniques in her course assessment of cormorant feeding patterns was considered the best across the college.
What’s inspired her interest in marine science? “It sounds blasé but from day one she’s been so deeply interested in almost every module and subject we’ve delivered, particularly deep-sea biology and the formation of life around deep-sea hydrothermal vents.
‘I act as devil’s advocate’
“Thanks to Emily and her fellow level 4 students, we’ve been helping deliver lectures at higher levels 5 and 6 - and matching students at MSc level,” says Craig.
“Emily will always discuss and review any issues in front of her and explain why she’s taking a certain route in her work. From a tutor’s point of view, she has an amazing ability to communicate and discuss any issues. Every time she overcomes an obstacle, she seems to get stronger and more determined.”
“I’ve often just acted as devil’s advocate and helped her consider her options to make the best decision, whether she is writing an assignment or considering placements or a career progression.”
Building the skills of constructive criticism
More recently in the second year of her degree course, Craig says his role was about helping her develop confidence in questioning and constructively criticising coursework and research projects. He still works on joint research projects with Emily even though she’s now finishing the honours year of her degree in zoological studies at Cornwall College’s Newquay campus to equip her to do an MSc at Exeter University.
“She’s already been offered a research position,” says Craig. “To achieve that as an undergrad with all the other issues she has had to face is remarkable.”
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