What makes a school or college ‘Good’? What steps need to be taken to make that setting ‘Outstanding’?
In Further Education settings, the quality of the teaching staff is a significant factor. Colleges need the right mix of lecturers and tutors from trade and academic routes into teaching. Damien Hinds discusses the importance of character in education, and the importance that life experience can play in becoming a leader.
We caught up with Anna Toon, Curriculum Operations Manager at Gateshead College, to find out more about what it takes to be a leader in an Outstanding environment.
What was your route into FE teaching?
With a unique route into teaching, Anna had a variety of jobs before entering FE, ‘I worked as a waitress and barmaid while at University and spent several weekends selling helium balloons in city centres and at carnivals and festivals! After that, I worked at a high street shop selling cameras and developing photographs – I’ve had some really interesting jobs.’
So, how did she get her break in education? ‘When I was made redundant I took a job in a call centre at Wilmorton College in Derby. After 9 months in that role, I was persuaded to embark on a teacher training course and was given the opportunity to complete a Cert Ed. and teach Key Skills ICT. I didn’t start in FE with the intention of teaching, but I thought it was a great opportunity.’
What were the challenges then?
Taking a less than traditional route into teaching, Anna sees many similarities in the challenges today’s practitioners face and the challenges she faced in her early days in education, ‘The challenges were always around engagement and motivation, given that the courses I was involved in were mandatory rather than optional, but the rewards will outweigh the challenges if you love what you do and, thankfully, I do!’
How do colleges interview?
Despite a love of her current position, Anna admits that gaining the role was a little daunting at first, particularly the interview process, ‘It was in several parts: I had to do a microteach, which nearly put me off applying! Fortunately, my lesson went remarkably well, and I delivered a presentation on how I would improve maths and English provision. I was also given a data task which I presented to senior leaders, who then completed the interview with a set of formal questions.’
What advice would Anna give to other professionals considering teaching?
Anna says, ‘The job will take up more time than your average 37-hour week - it's definitely a vocation, but it’s hugely rewarding.’
What is the most rewarding aspect of FE?
‘Watching a student progress into employment and seeing previously disengaged students turning themselves around and achieving their goals is the best thing about FE without a doubt. It’s the reason I do the job.’
What routes would Anna recommend for tradespeople considering moving into teaching in Further Education?
As with any other area of education, relationships in FE are absolutely key to success, and tradespeople entering FE can not only offer real insight into life after education, but have a great basis with which to start positive relationships with students. ‘Contact your local college or training provider and have a conversation with the relevant leader - possibly observe some sessions if you can to see expectations first-hand. PGCE or in-service training are great options and it’s important to think about L2 maths and English qualifications if you don’t already have them.’
What else should the government be doing to recruit and retain staff?
As well as recruiting tradespeople from industry, the government is also currently attempting to focus on cutting workload in a bid to retain staff. ‘The funding of FE is significantly lower than schools, which means colleges have a harder time competing with teaching salaries. We could consider offering bursaries or incentives that are currently available to schools, especially in difficult to recruit areas such as engineering.’
Key to the Outstanding work in her current role, Anna has clearly benefited from the life experiences and career path that she has taken. With the breadth of experience that people such as Anna bring to the sector, the future looks bright for leadership in Further Education.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Hartlepool College of Further Education. 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.