FE hero: We're at the forefront of technological change

This week's FE hero, Phil Whitehead from DN Colleges Group, talks about how the sector is leading edtech innovation

Tes Reporter

FE heroes: Colleges are at the forefront of edtech innovation, says Phil Whitehead, of DN Colleges Group

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

Phil Whitehead, digital teaching and learning manager, DN Colleges Group.

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

I have worked at the group for four years. Previously, I was a computing and IT teacher in a secondary school, and a virtual learning environment (VLE) developer. I also own a YouTube channel called Teachblend, which I use to help students and teachers learn digital skills across the UK and beyond. I am also one of Microsoft's learning consultants.

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

I love working in education and making a real difference. Further education is such a vibrant and diverse place to work. My work varies from day to day and I feel like FE is at the forefront of technological change and educational development. FE is a fantastic place to work.

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Describe what a day at work looks like for you... 

A typical day normally consists of checking my emails and support requests first thing and then attending meetings and training. It could be a few one-to-one support meetings with staff members in the morning to support them with digital skills. This is normally followed by a catch-up with my team, developing online resources, training materials and developing self-study modules. I will also check e-safety logs and support staff and students with any concerns. Sometimes, I host webinars for Microsoft, and spend the rest of the day training staff members and holding training sessions on digital tools.

What motivates you in your workplace?

Seeing how the use of technology can improve teaching and learning, and how using these tools effectively can support students and make learning more accessible for all. I enjoy supporting staff members to improve their digital skills and watching them develop over time to move edtech forward and support other colleagues. In a nutshell, I love supporting people in obtaining new skills and seeing that moment it all "clicks" (bad pun intended). 

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

Staff members are my main learners and I also guest lecture and talk on the PGCE course. A particular learner was hesitant to use digital tools. After some training and support, she went away and invested her own time and effort into further developing her skills. She is now a digital champion, Microsoft innovator expert and master trainer, and she supports me with edtech. Seeing her develop and overcome her initial fears inspires me to continue to do what I do.

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

I love working in FE. I love the atmosphere and buzz and the diverse nature of my role and college. Yes, it is challenging at times, but I feel everyone that works in the sector makes a difference.

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

How do we rise to the new challenges of Brexit and the pandemic? Another one of the biggest challenges will be working on meeting the needs of local economies and national industries.

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

I think there will be even greater emphasis on skills. I can see a shift in embracing the sciences and digital: a more blended approach to learning with the technology used to improve and support learning through collaboration and experimentation with less emphasis on college being a place.

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

Simple: reverse the spending cuts and invest.

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Tes Reporter

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