South Devon College prinicpal’s first year at helm -’challenging, rewarding - with an awesome team’

Having changed career three times, I can honestly say that being part of our education system is the most rewarding work I have ever done. It is also the most challenging.

Like every other organisation and individual, that challenge has never felt greater than during the last 3 months.

Please don’t think I am complaining, I have much to be grateful for and much to be optimistic about.

I have always believed that it is not what happens to us that matters, but how we respond to it. For South Devon College this is truer now than ever. I have never been so proud to be a part of the awe-inspiring group of people I am privileged to call colleagues. On 20th March 2020 we closed our doors to all except our most vulnerable students or from families of our dedicated key workers. We had no idea of what was to come and how long lockdown would last.

As ever, our team of professional and dedicated staff rose to the challenge of putting the interests, needs and wellbeing of our students first, they also moved teaching and learning “on line”. Our students were also awe-inspiring , most embraced this different way of learning and almost 90% of them have been actively engaged. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve all had to rapidly adapt to a very changed way of living, working and communicating, but everyone has remained enthusiastic and innovative. Vlogs, social media challenges, using new Apps or old Apps in new ways, all brave and innovative adaptions. They have volunteered in the community, raised money to make or buy critical PPE for those on the frontline in healthcare and have helped those most in need.

We reopened our doors 15th June 2020. Slowly and carefully we are returning. Academic and Professional Services teams have been working tirelessly to make sure that despite many exams, formal testing and assessment not now taking place, our students can be reassured that their results and outcomes are just as valuable with rigorous and objective assessment by the College. Although students won’t finish their year celebrating their hard work and achievements in the normal way, we will ensure they still have a chance to celebrate, succeed and progress on the next step of their journey, whether that is further or higher education or in to the world of work.

We are now planning and re-planning, for the new academic year. I think most of us have a real desire to “get back to normal”. It will be wonderful if we are able to start our new academic year as usual. If we can, we absolutely will. Whether 2020/21 students are returning; new, starting their A Levels in our 6th Form Centre, beginning a technical or vocational qualification in our state of the art campus, looking to “earn and learn” as an apprentice, moving to higher or degree level study at University Centre South Devon (UCSD) or are an adult looking to retrain or improve skills, South Devon College will start the academic year for all in September.

The most important planning is making sure our whole College is safe. Following Government advice on social distancing and personal safety, we now have a “Covid secure” campus for working and learning.

South Devon College is still the inspirational and rewarding place it has been for me during the last 10 years. My first year as Principal & CEO has not been quite as planned and although I don’t have a crystal ball or power of foresight, as a College we keep looking positively to the future. Despite challenges still to come, we will continue to put our students at the centre of all we do and support Torbay and South Devon as we regenerate and emerge stronger and more successful together.