Darren Hankey, Principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education, explains why he believes the strengths of being a dual professional are so often overlooked when it comes to looking at the inspirational work done by colleges in the Further Education and Training sector.
Colleges are an essential part of England’s education system, educating and training 2.2 million people every year, but I feel there is still a real lack of awareness when it comes to working in the world of Further Education (FE) and how colleges help people make the most of their talents.
The beauty of being a practitioner in a FE college, and what makes it special in my eyes, is that you get the opportunity to be a dual professional. You could have started out your career by honing your skills as a bricklayer, plasterer, engineer or accountant, but this is a way of keeping that profession alive; many of our lecturers do just that, but they also develop their identity as a teacher as well.
At Hartlepool College our biggest curriculum area is engineering, and that is a big selling point for us in terms of classroom-based education for young people and adults. Another is our apprenticeship provision, which was judged as outstanding by Ofsted in 2017. For a relatively small college, we try to back up our average, with 25 per cent of Engineering apprentices in the North East of England trained through us.
Driving forward teaching, learning and assessment
My career in FE started in 1995 when I completed a teacher trainer course at the University of Greenwich, before moving up the ranks as a middle manager, joining a senior team, and eventually becoming Principal in 2013. Whilst these days I don’t do as much teaching as I’d like to, I’m still very much involved and play a key role in setting the environment and driving forward our teaching, learning and assessment practice.
I don’t believe there is a magical solution to a problem where if you do this ‘one thing’, your organisation will be fine, but what I do believe is that as a head of an education establishment, if you get your teaching, learning and assessment right, other things will fall into place; students will enjoy the experience, you will retain them, they will achieve, and you will get a reputation for providing a good education service.
Continuing professional development
Continuing professional development (CPD) takes place throughout the year and we dedicate three days of the February half term specifically to it. Although CPD is very much an individual ‘thing’, it is an essential part of our responsibility to help our teachers develop and improve their knowledge and practice in the classroom. Ultimately, it is about making them more employable and demonstrating to others that they are taking teaching seriously.
Over the last few years we have developed a team of advanced practitioners who help share good practice that takes place around the college. We are also very much on the research agenda and do lots of reading about what is effective in terms of teaching, learning and assessment practice.
Providing an environment for learners to flourish
I think we do wonderful work in colleges up and down the country, and even though you could say we have one arm behind our back when it comes to funding pressures, we are proud that we do especially well in terms of getting apprentices on board. We find that most of our learners who come to Hartlepool College are here because they want to be; they want to learn a specific subject area in more detail, so by and large they are motivated to be here, and we try to provide an environment where they can flourish.
For us it’s about making sure learners are getting the knowledge and skills to either progress to university or on to the world of work. We see Further Education as a direct investment into the economy, rather than a cost, and as teachers and leaders, it would be great to do even more with right and fair levels of funding.