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Make learners the most employable they can be

Preston’s College is a Further Education college situated in Central Lancashire. We operate in close proximity to a large University and a Sixth Form, and we focus on the provision of high quality technical pathways, designed to meet the learning and skills needs of our community. 

Our mission is to ‘make our learners the most employable that they can be’, and in facilitating this, we align our curriculum closely to Local Enterprise Partnership’s priorities, whilst positively engaging a broad range of employer partners in curriculum development, design and delivery. In delivering to our mission, we recognise the value in embedding a ‘careers culture’ across our provision, and have structured our resources to ensure that learners are continually engaged and supported in working towards achieving their aspirational goals.

I am proud to lead a Recruitment, Progression and Careers team who are responsible for engaging and supporting learners through every stage of their journey, from pre-enrolment to progression. My team work tirelessly in engaging young people, schools, parents and other stakeholders in the provision of effective CEIAG, whilst they also ensure that by working effectively with our Curriculum Schools, that provision is consistent and wholly embed across our college, ensuring consistency in experience for all learners. I also have responsibility for Pastoral and Industry Placement provision, creating a team which is designed to add real value to all of our learners.

The Department of 14-19 Curriculum was established in 2017, and one of our initial priorities was to review the way in which we engaged partner schools, and ultimately to find ways to improve the service provided in strengthening these crucial relationships. Central to this, was the enhancement of our 14-16 ‘Alternative Provision’ offer, which reflects our strength in technical provision, whilst supporting schools and their learners in accessing provision which largely meets Progress 8 criteria. The strength, breadth and quality of this offer has cemented positive partnership working, and has enabled the college to benefit from much greater access to our partner schools in the provision of other CEIAG related activity.

In direct response to the pandemic, the restrictions on face to face engagement with partner high schools and other support agencies meant that we had to quickly adapt and deliver provision through virtual activity.  Our initial platform, ‘Sprint Start’ was created to support those year 11 learners who ‘at risk’ of missing significant chunks of their education between March and September.  Our innovative platform gave them the opportunity to a join a course of their choice (or multiple courses), meet the staff and complete pre-college activities which would enable them to best prepare for their college course. The success of this platform and the positive feedback received, motivated us to then develop our virtual ‘taster’ platform, targeted at Year 10 learners who would ordinarily visit the college in June or July for this activity. It has to be said that our staff responded brilliantly in supporting this provision, being open to videography and resource development, at a time when they were also supporting our existing learners in overcoming the challenges of remote learning and new assessment methodology.

Though such a significant change for us, virtual enrolment quickly followed, and more recently we have delivered a range of virtual Advice Events. On reflection, I must stress that whilst the re-structuring activity of 2017 was an important catalyst for change, the success of the college in embedding a careers culture has been borne out of the people, and the positive response from staff in all areas of the college. This has been exemplified throughout lockdown, when based on the review and feedback from each event, there has been a real appetite to refine, to improve and to ultimately make it better next time.

The feedback we have received from high schools, parents and learners has been refreshing, stating that our virtual platforms have genuinely supported their ability to explore the college and choose the right courses. We have complemented this activity with a telephone ‘drop-in’ service for learners and parents, and this too has proven to be very popular.  Currently we are working on and looking forward to the launch of our virtual Careers platform to be launched in our Careers Week (wc 8th March). This will feature a ‘Talking Heads’  section which offers over 80 videos provided by professionals and employers across the range of sectors; sharing their careers journeys, and recommendations for our young learners.

I strongly believe that the key to delivering a successful careers strategy and programme is cultural. I’ve been lucky to have the full support of the Executive Leadership Team and the Board of Governors, who have provided a link governor who I meet on a termly basis.  I was supported in joining the CEC funded Level 7 Careers Leader programme at Warwick University which was insightful and beneficial from a sharing perspective and I have also been able to build a team who work with amazing pride and energy, and who understand the importance of effective relationships, internally and externally.

The impact has been significant. We clearly have enhanced relationships with all partner Schools across Central Lancashire; our 14-16 provision grows year on year, as have applications, enrolment and conversions onto our Study Programmes. Learner achievement at the college is high, and increased progression rates have also supported curriculum growth. I can’t promise that we are ‘there’ yet, or that we will ever be as we promote a positive culture of continuous improvement. What I can say though, is that a strong careers offer, embed consistently across the college curriculum, has positively impacted on many, and will continue to do so for the years to come!