FE Hero: 'Communities of colleges come together'

Working in FE can be challenging, but college communities support each other, says this week's FE Hero Kate McDonald. Here, she tells her story

Tes Reporter

This week's FE hero tells her story

What is your name, job title and place of work?

Kate McDonald, director of curriculum, DN Colleges Group

How long have you held your current role, and what other jobs did you have before?

I have had the pleasure of working at North Lindsey College, part of DN Colleges Group, for almost 15 years now, I started as an agency lecturer in Sport and I have progressed through the roles of curriculum leader, head of performance and associate director to director of curriculum, I have been in my current role for three years now. Before North Lindsey College, I was a lifeguard and swimming teacher for the local authority.


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How – and why – did you first start working in further education?

I was rescued from the poolside! North Lindsey College used the pool for their lifeguard qualification, and I was approached by the tutor to see if I was interested in teaching at college and I never looked back! I started with a couple of hours a week teaching anatomy and physiology, which – at the time – no-one in the department enjoyed teaching, but I loved it! I loved the buzz in the classroom, I loved that the students felt a sense of achievement and I felt a huge sense of purpose within my role and that I could make a difference in these young people's lives.

Briefly describe what a day at work looks like for you

Every day is different in FE, that is one of the best things about my job. I like to be visible in my role, so I enjoy campus walks. I enjoy touching base with curriculum teams and leaders and engaging in discussion, I really enjoy discussions with students about their student journey and how we have enhanced their skills and knowledge. Microsoft Teams plays a large part in my working day via emails and meetings currently. I enjoy networking with local, regional, and national employers building on gaining opportunities through partnership working for the curriculum I am responsible for.

What motivates you in your workplace?

The people! Staff and the students! It is a great place to work and staff are fabulous to work with. I do possess a huge amount of my own internal motivation to want to do well for the good of the business, the students and staff and myself. The local autonomy for decision making is having a positively huge impact on departments and their leaders, increasing motivation on a daily basis.

Share an anecdote about a student or learner who has inspired you.

There are often so many untold stories in FE, which as a group we continually cast a light upon. In recent years, I taught a young man who started with us with very little confidence and English as his second language. He progressed through to level 2 and level 3 and was an ambassador for the football team. He is now on his way to completing a degree. The way in which we unlocked his potential and gained his trust and a rapport with him to want to stretch and challenge him at every level was inspiring and is currently a fantastic case study for many students to aspire to.

Do you enjoy working in FE? And if so, why?

I love working in FE, no day is the same! Occasionally, it can be very challenging to work in this sector, yet communities of colleges come together to support one another, I really like the #loveourcolleges campaign. Being able to make a difference in young people's lives is why I come to work every day, whether it be the influence of a face-to-face conversation, inspiring curriculum design or teaching and coaching.

What do you see as the big challenges for the FE sector in the next few years?

T-level transition, telling the untold stories of FE, reducing the skills gaps of youngsters and building their social resilience

What do you think our FE sector will look like in 30 years’ time?

I'd like to see our sector as a thriving skills hub for young people, pivotal in gaining phenomenal destinations and careers for our young people. One that gives more critical time back to staff for CPD and their own upskilling. One that gives parity of esteem for vocational education alongside academic education and one which is innovative and creative working spaces for staff and students.

If you were made apprenticeships and skills minister, what is the first thing you’d introduce or change?

Ensure FE has sufficient funds to develop its community, education and opportunities for young people and ensure FE opportunities are available for all people, in a diverse environment.

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