All in this Together

Against a backdrop of uncertainty and gloom over proposed changes to 16 -19 funding, reported decreases in the numbers of 16 – 18 year olds enrolling on courses,  and redundancies brought about by cuts in funding,  it is heartening to find  examples of  FE colleges  continuing the tradition of rapid response and transformation by  identifying innovative solutions to survive in uncertain times.

Danny Ridgeway has been Principal of Bexley College for just short of 18 months. In this time he has overseen a radical timetable for rapid change which has invigorated the college. In April 2011, a consultation began on a proposal to form a “strategic alliance” between the college and Bexley Adult Education College which would create a new, combined community college in the borough.  For Danny this represents the chance for the college to “preserve the best from both colleges to ensure that we can better meet the needs of our students, employers and the local community.”  For him the need is “to find innovative solutions not only to survive but to thrive”.

In addition to this development, work has progressed on an ambitious building programme which will see the college relocate from its present site to a more accessible, state of the art facility in the Erith Western Gateway. On completion it is anticipated that relocating will contribute to the regeneration of the area.   In light of government constraints on capital funding, the college is working in partnership with Barratt Ward Homes and Osborne’s  construction company on the new build and also on plans to redevelop its current site in Tower Road for residential housing.  It is hoped that selling the Tower Road site and developing new housing will make a significant contribution to funding the new college which is planned to open in time for the start of the academic year in September 2013.

So far, the college has held 3 public exhibition events in July 2011 at which local residents viewed the proposals for the new college and the redevelopment of the Tower Road site. The college reports   the response from the local community as being “very positive” and states that it has “already taken on board a number of residents’ suggestions. “

The radical changes don’t stop at capital projects. Danny has ambitions to reinvigorate the college’s curriculum and deliver excellence in learning and teaching.  Links with schools have been revived and are improving. Since January 2011 the college has been working alongside two local schools – Woodside and Oakwood , Connexions, the Pupil Referral  service and Bexley Behaviour Federation to deliver short taster programmes targeting 14 – 16 year olds who are interested  in pursuing more vocational options . The tasters attracted 68 young people  which boosted recruitment onto higher level courses at the college.  Plans for this academic year include an expansion of the school links programme to include termly taster courses.  These are proving more popular with young people than the traditional two year programmes because students can try something and get unit accreditation for one term.  If they like it, they can continue to study, if it wasn’t what they expected they can try another area.  As with all courses within the College there is an increasing focus on employability and the progression outcomes after the current course.

Meanwhile over in Kingston, new Principal Peter Mayhew Smith has breathed life into the college’s partnership work  and relationships with employers which Ofsted judged  to be outstanding in 2010.  The college’s relationship with British Airways has been revived  by the development of an apprenticeship programme in Aerospace Engineering .  From September this year 36 advanced apprentices began a  full time programme  in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering .  A BA spokesperson commented that After a 16 year break we were really excited to have re-started the apprenticeship programme at Kingston College”.

So far the 36 apprentices on the programme have made presentations to the British Airways board reporting on their experience and on their progress.  The relationship between the college and BA has been strengthened further by the recruitment of BA engineers as lecturer/assessors   who have been able to advise on the programme design and content . In addition to core units, Kingston’s  apprentices take additional units in Mechanical Engineering and Hand Skills which meet BA’s needs and expectations and also prepare them for  their future in the workplace. In addition to the advanced apprenticeships, the college has also launched  an Aviations Operations on the Ground programme which is at entry level and targets school leavers. The college sees this as an opportunity for them to eventually become aircraft  ground handlers working as part of the operations team at Heathrow. BA’s director of operations, Andy Lord, concurs: “This is a fantastic chance for any young person interested in a career in ground operations to get a unique insight into what makes British Airways work”.

The focus on apprenticeships and reviving vocational opportunities for students has not had a negative impact on the college’s relationship with Higher Education. Peter reports on a strong and dynamic relationship with Kingston University which has been mutually supportive in the face of funding cuts.  The partnership is thriving on every level from strategic leadership to teaching. The college and university are working in partnership to make sure that the provision offer and delivery are relevant to the local community.