FE Heroes: 'Covid recovery is a major challenge for FE'

Weston College's Jenna Ratcliffe explains why she sold her business and committed to teaching full-time

Tes Reporter

FE Heroes: Weston College's Jenna Ratcliffe explains why she sold her business to teach in college full-time

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

Jenna Ratcliffe, FE curriculum coordinator, Weston College.

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

I have held my current role for 19 months. Prior to this role I was a beauty therapy lecturer for five years and prior to this a salon director for 12 years.

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

Whilst running my business I supported many a learner on work experience. It was through this role that I recognised that many young people saw their learning as only a chance to gain a qualification. I believed that my experiences from a salon manager's perspective could inspire young people to see their learning as a career, not just a course.

I began my journey into FE by volunteering within apprenticeship sessions before being allocated a small amount of teaching hours. Within a year I had completed my level 3 teaching and learning diploma, and accepted more hours, now teaching across full-time and apprenticeship programmes. I continued this for many years alongside running my business.

After three years, I had completely immersed myself into my teaching. I completed my level 5 in teaching and education and developed a newfound determination to succeed within the educational sector. I recognised that I could no longer maintain a dual professional role. I felt torn between my business needs and the needs of my learners. My learners won, and so, against many people’s opinions, I sold my business and committed myself full-time to the development of future talent.

After five years of lecturing, I was given the opportunity of promotion to FE curriculum coordinator of hair, barbering and beauty therapy. This is my current role, where I am responsible for the planning and daily oversight of curriculum and continue to do what inspired me in the first place – teach!

Briefly describe what a day at work looks like for you

My role is positively challenging. The day will generally begin with a team catch-up before I teach my level 3 beauty group. Lesson walkthroughs, re-engagement meetings with learners/parents, one-to-one support sessions with my team, learner interviews and competition squad training complete my day. Each day is varied but always learner-centred.

What motivates you in your workplace?

Weston College motivates me daily. It is committed to enhancing learner experience and allows me, through my current role, to take ownership of the enhancement of learner skill sets from competence to excellence. I am personally motivated by the impact that competition work has on staff and learners alike.

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

Chloe, a first-year student who had barriers to learning after an unmotivating experience at school, struggled to concentrate in sessions and had limited self-belief. I saw the passion in Chloe the first time I taught her; she just didn’t realise her potential. I convinced Chloe to enter WorldSkills competitions and she reluctantly agreed, not fully believing in herself. Through one-to-one training with myself, Chloe began to flourish; her employability skills were strengthening, and her technical ability was developing. Attendance and commitment to sessions started to improve and Chloe started to finally believe that she was capable. Chloe went on to compete at regionals and nationals before recently being selected for the UK talent development programme with the chance to compete in Shanghai.

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

Absolutely! FE challenges, inspires and positively frustrates me.  All these ingredients motivate me to work harder to develop the talent and ambitions of all learners, regardless of age and background.

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

Covid recovery is a major challenge for the FE sector. Businesses require urgent support to develop the skills of future employees. Local and regional economies are stretched, skills gaps are growing, and industries require a kick start. FE could be part of the solution. However, it is currently faced with a funding crisis, leading to fewer teaching hours, course closures and, ultimately, limited opportunities.

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

I believe the FE sector will have new, innovative ways of working with more flexible approaches to learning allowing learners to be more self-assured within their studies. There is a brighter future for learners with education able to transform the lives of anyone who seeks it.

I also think distance learning will support the need for positive work/life balance and ultimately the good mental health of learners. Within the next 30 years upgraded IT systems could open up more opportunities for international learning.

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

I would look again at the accessibility of work placements for T levels, as there is a continued challenge to find quality placements, particularly as the economy reopens. Employers need to be educated in the importance of their contributions.


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