Together We Transform: Marisa Ferguson - South Bank Colleges

Marisa Ferguson is a Learner Development Coach Coordinator at South Bank Colleges. Marisa talks about how the support services within further education (FE) and skills providers are the key to transforming the lives of learners.

Marissa Ferguson, Southbank College

I went to university to study education, with the intentions of becoming a teacher. But throughout my course, I became more passionate about pastoral care and removing the barriers to learning that existed outside of the classroom so that students could access and make the most of their education experience.

Now, as a Learner and Development Coach Coordinator at South Bank Colleges, part of my role allows me to design the weekly one-hour tutorials which the team delivers to learners. These tutorials cover themes on all aspects of life both in and out of college, from safeguarding, Prevent and college values, mental health and employability skills, to sustainability, entrepreneurship, progression and future goals. It’s a privilege to witness our learners become leaders of their own journey.

From my personal experience, I know how important FE and Training is. For many students – whether they are school-leavers, returning to education after a career/study break, or retraining to take on another career entirely, FE can offer another chance at learning. I didn’t get my education experience quite right the first time round, and for lots of people like me, FE and Training can empower you to change your life and career trajectory completely.

The power of support services

FE and Training can be transformational, as its infrastructure includes a wrap-around support service which is often fulfilled by non-teaching members of staff. It’s about much more than gaining essential qualifications. It’s also about providing a space where learners can not only study in a supportive environment but also get the help they need to overcome whatever challenges or obstacles they may face along the way.

At South Bank Colleges, we offer the full package to make sure our learners’ goals can become reality. Having access to this level of support creates limitless possibilities for our learners.

Teaching to empower

It takes real skill as a teacher to build trust with a learner, support them to navigate their challenges, and know exactly how to empower them to engage and bring their best self to the classroom. My colleagues are amazing at this – their ability to build relationships quickly and provide tailored support is truly inspiring.

FE and Training staff also have the ability to translate a wealth of information into bite-sized pieces, so learners can expand their understanding of a subject or industry. It’s a transformative experience, and I think our LDCs (Learner Development Coaches) and teachers are so skilled at facilitating that transformation.

A holistic approach to learner support

Working within FE and Training has changed my life, as I’ve seen first-hand how using a holistic and restorative approach can make all the difference to our learners.

Traditionally, the focus tends to be on academia, as that is the measurable outcome, and there can be so much pressure to cover the curriculum that there is less opportunity to focus on pastoral support. In FE and Training, you’re working with students of all ages and from all walks of life, and so their needs, their challenges, and their responsibilities outside of college can be much more complex.

With a more holistic approach, we can offer a support service that is centred around academic progression, which also takes into account other contextual factors.

We support our learners to become experts at self-efficacy and overcoming challenge. That’s not at all to say that everyone has a troubled past or a difficult life, but I’ve found in each new cohort of learners at the college, there are those in the process of personally overcoming something.

Regardless of what’s going on in their lives, our learners make the most of their college experience. They actively take part, they sign up to be course reps, they join the student union – for me, they’re an inspirational example of how you can excel, even in the face of adversity.

CPD and the benefits of SET membership

Continuous Professional Development is crucial when you work in FE and Training. A lot of the time when delivering a session, you have to draw on experience to inform your practice, and for some teachers at the start of their career, you might not have that experience yet. CPD is a great way to build your own knowledge and benefit from the experience of others in order to better meet the needs of your learners.

Find out more

Find out more about our Together we transform initiative, and view other case studies, highlighting the transformative impact that the further education and skills sector has on lives across the UK.