‘No matter what age, you still have that connection with learners’
With so much time spent training to join the world of work, what inspires industry specialists and vocational professionals to return to education as a teacher, lecturer or practitioner?
If you speak to any lecturer, teacher or practitioner, more than likely, you will find that their ultimate goal is to help students progress to the next steps in their career. Whether this be the next step in education or their first steps into employment (if not both), vocational students similarly identify further education or employment as their primary goal.
This week, I caught up with John Cartwright (Head of Construction and the Built Environment at Hartlepool College of Further Education, North East Chair of B.A.C.H (the British Association of Construction Heads) and board member of Constructing Excellence North East (C.E.N.E) to discuss his motivation for returning to education, his thoughts for the importance of FE and a range of other issues.
Having been in FE for over 20 years, like many, John was first attracted to FE by the desire to make a difference, ‘Having quickly progressed to different levels of responsibility with my career, I felt I had something to offer new entrants to the industry – I wanted to give something back.’
A popular route into lecturing for practitioners, John started at a National training provider, before making the leap into the unknown at a local FE college. As successful as John has been, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, ‘When I applied, I was a bag of nerves. Knowing it was a huge step leaving the construction industry (my home since I left school), I was really stepping into the unknown!’
But why the move specifically to FE?
‘In those days, it was the kudos and prestige of working as a lecturer in a college, in education. Along with feeling I could have a good bond with students, offer them support and guidance, as I was still quite young myself.’
With a wealth of experience in both FE and the trade, John explains that although the jobs have many similarities and differences, the workload can be equally as challenging: ‘The variety is immense: one minute you’re presenting learners with student of the month prizes; the next, you’re in management meetings and then speaking to employers or developing new curriculum areas – it’s hugely rewarding.’
A key element of curriculum management, John is currently working on opening a Civil Engineering Academy with a local firm. He hopes this will give students ‘real world’ experience before they join the world of employment, and hopes that one day some of his own students might make the leap from work to education, ‘I started my career in FE like a vast amount of amazing people who have done well in construction.
“FE is at the heart of every community; it gives people belief, it gives people rewards, it recognises the different needs of people and serves them well.”
As the Chair of the British Association of Construction Heads (BACH), John is well placed to monitor some of the challenges and issues faced by not only construction lecturers, but leadership within this curriculum area also. Many of these challenges are felt right across the country, ‘The main one for us is government funding for FE. There’s been a lot in the press lately about the lack of an increase in government funding for years now, and there is genuine concern in the industry that this might impact on the quality we are delivering day in, day out.’
The statistics back this up: FE funding has fallen by a fifth since 2010.
Like many lecturers and leaders in FE, John feels that this funding must increase if FE is to stay competitive with other areas of education: ‘FE is essential to the development of, not just young people, but every walk of life. It’s an amazing starting point for anyone wanting to get into a trade or vocational profession, and a great route into further or higher education. It’s such a valuable part of education.’
Does this mean John would never think about returning to the trade?
‘Never say never. I really enjoy the job and the job satisfaction– I enjoy being in education and the variety it brings. Talking to students every day, watching them succeed and achieve, being there to support them when they need it, working in a team of like-minded staff who are all here to help young people do what they want to be doing – it’s the best job in the world.’
With his love of the job evident, John advises anyone thinking about a career in FE to do what he did, ‘Take the leap. It can be daunting, it can be nerve-wracking, but it’s absolutely worth it.’
How did your life change when you moved from trade to lecturing? Let us know on Facebook.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Tyne Coast College. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.