Meet Chris Fairclough

Men and Women providing an example of the kind of success stories the ETF helps to write
Men and Women providing an example of the kind of success stories the ETF helps to write

There is no such thing as a typical user of ETF support – the individuals who utilise the development opportunities we provide are diverse. Some are teachers and trainers, some are leaders, some work in auxiliary roles, and some are governors or governance professionals. And the sector itself is wide-ranging too of course; the different types of environment that colleagues work in are every bit as varied. But if you’re looking for someone who can be said to embody the ETF’s offer, then you need look no further than Chris Fairclough, lecturer and curriculum team leader for nuclear engineering at Lakes College.

Having decided to leave his job at Sellafield in 2016, Chris made a decisive step into education, working at a local provider setting up degree apprenticeships. “I was feeling disgruntled in industry and didn’t feel I was getting the development I wanted.” he explains. “I had been doing some guest lecturing and I had really enjoyed it, so I decided to make the move into education. In 2017 I moved to Lakes College – it was a brand-new department and as the National College for Nuclear it was part of a brand-new initiative. I was writing qualifications from scratch, which was really interesting.”

It was at this point that Chris first came into the ETF’s orbit. As a new lecturer, he was eligible to join SET for Teaching Success, the ETF programme set up to recruit, train, mentor and support new teachers of Science, Engineering and Technology. He did so, despite, initially, being unconvinced. “I was sceptical about the programme to begin with but that changed at the very first meeting. I met some really good people and we had great training.”

His mind changed, Chris acknowledges the benefits of participation to his own teaching, his colleagues, and the wider profession. “At the first session we looked at pedagogical content knowledge. That has been really useful. For example, it helped me to move on from the idea that I must stick to a detailed lesson plan for every session and it gave me confidence as a teacher. A few months ago a student asked me a question about a controller, and I had the confidence to completely change the lesson from that point – that’s the kind of confidence I gained from the SET for Teaching Success programme. I’ve taken the ideas and resources back to college and it’s been useful for colleagues too. The programme built up my knowledge about the FE sector, and the opportunity to talk to lots of teachers in other organisations and to share common issues and solutions which gave me a better understanding of the wider picture – I was able to use that understanding in my interview for curriculum team leader, so it’s helped my career as well.”

In 2019 Chris achieved his PGCE qualification but remains involved with the SET for Teaching Success programme as one of its alumni and has contributed to others’ training, something he feels is important: “I’m happy to be involved and to stay connected. Some of the press about teaching and FE is a bit negative but actually, parts of it are thriving and bringing new people into the sector and supporting them is really valuable.”

Chris’s collaborative approach also manifested itself in the leading part he played in one of the ETF’s Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment (OTLA) projects, the Technical Skills National Programme. That work adopted the principle of experiential learning – which underpins all teaching at the Lakes College – to enhance the skills development of nuclear technicians by placing their learning in a practical, hands-on context. Although managing the project had its challenges, he is unequivocal about its benefits: “Managing the project was difficult, but really worth it and I’d advise any new teachers coming in from industry to get involved. The impact on learners has been massive. We’ve actually implemented the model across the board, from Level 3 right through to Level 6, and we have found certain areas where experiential learning really comes into its own.”

It is unsurprising, perhaps, that in January this year (2020) Chris was one of just four individuals honoured with the award of a Technical Teaching Fellowship. Funded through a partnership between the ETF and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, the Fellowships exist to promote excellence in industrial and technical education, providing the time and resources necessary to disseminate effective practice across the sector. Chris will use his to extend the work on the experiential learning model begun by the OTLA project he led.

That award isn’t just a natural continuation of the professional journey he is already embarked on, it’s a very neat encapsulation of the kind of stories that the ETF’s support helps people to write.

Cerian Ayres
National Head of Technical Education
Education and Training Foundation