The end is also the beginning…

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I had to say some fond farewells this week.

After nearly three years, I left Derby College to take up my next challenge.

I was appointed Group Director of Teaching and Learning at the Derby College Group and Education Trust in September 2013 with a remit to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment at one of the country’s largest further education colleges – as well as its sponsored secondary academy – and, as a consequence, to help raise its Ofsted grade from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’.

Although I confided this in no one, it was always my intention to commit to three years or stay until such a time as we were inspected and judged to be ‘good’. It now seems fortuitous, therefore, that the two events have almost coincided.

Accordingly, following our recent successful inspection I decided that the time was right to seek out a new challenge. This week was therefore my last and, although I can’t say I’ll miss those long daily commutes on the train, I will definitely miss all the staff who work at the end of the line.

The last few years have been incredibly rewarding and it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of the college’s journey of improvement. During my time in Derby, our sponsored academy has achieved the best GCSE results in the school’s history, the FE college has gone from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ with outstanding features and achieved record exam results placing it within the top 20th percentile, our teacher training provision has been judged outstanding by Ofsted, our higher education provision has been commended by the QAA and… well, I could go on but – suffice to say – it’s been a real success story and I’m proud to have contributed to it and now wish my friends and colleagues well as they continue on the next leg of this incredible journey.

When I first read our Ofsted report a couple of months ago I was particularly pleased that inspectors had singled out our teaching and support staff for praise because they – frontline staff working with our students each and every day – are our real heroes.

Inspectors said “Teachers are well qualified and passionate about their work. They use their skills well to connect learning to the workplace and to learners’ future careers. They set high expectations for themselves and for their learners. Teachers are positive role models for learners. Teachers’ support for learners is individualised and challenges learners to achieve their qualification. They ensure that learners remain fully engaged and enjoy their learning. Teachers identify learners’ support needs promptly. Teachers integrate English and mathematics well. Many teachers use technology well to promote learning. Teachers make good use of learners’ self-reflection and peer assessment to drive improvement and prepare learners for success in higher education or future work. Teachers maintain electronic records which are thorough and up to date. [Teachers] reinforce equality and diversity and British values through their teaching. Teachers have a wide repertoire of teaching methods and many are confident to adapt tasks and activities to better engage and motivate learners. Teaching and learning is particularly good for learners with high needs and for full-time learners on vocational programmes.”

I am so proud of what they have achieved and – as well as saying goodbye – I wanted this week to be about saying thank you. I particularly wanted to thank our Teaching and Learning Coaches for the work they have done training and supporting their colleagues towards improvement. The ‘TLCs’ (never has an acronym been so appropriate) have always been an absolute inspiration to me and I know many of them will go on to greatness. And I want to thank the Learning Technology Team and Learning Resources Team for the tireless – and yet quiet, often unrewarded – support they have given to our staff and students.

The last few years have at times been tough and we have all had to contend with a number of significant changes to the way we work. But my colleagues have, without exception, responded positively and enthusiastically. They have made my time very happy and extremely fulfilling. Moreover, they have made me feel right at home.

One final mention must go to my leadership team and to their teams – I would like to take credit for building a great team around me (succession planning: the measure of a true leader!!) but really they didn’t need any help from me. My direct reports have been a fantastic support to me over the last few months whilst I’ve been unwell and I can leave college now to take up my next challenge safe in the knowledge that they will carry the torch onwards towards the finish line. Helen, in particular, has been a fantastic deputy – so thank you, Helen, for everything.

I hate endings. I know I will miss my colleagues and students. But I must confess I am secretly excited because with endings come new beginnings…

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