FE Heroes: 'The pandemic has led to real connections'

In the first instalment of a new Tes series, Lucy Harding, lecturer in education at Hugh Baird College, shares her story

Tes Reporter

FE Heroes: Covid has led to real connections in colleges, says Lucy Harding

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

​Lucy Harding, lecturer in education at Hugh Baird College/University Centre, which is part of the UCLan (University of Central Lancashire) Partnership.

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

I have been in my current role for four years. I had the benefit of shadowing someone up to their retirement before I undertook the teacher educator role, almost as an apprentice – very much a luxury in education but something that I think should be done more. 

Prior to this role, I've had quite a few different roles in FE and HE in FE. 

I've been a course leader of Btecs, programme manager, HE contextual studies lecturer, lead verifier for an awarding body and an assistant director for a large college. I also took two years out of education when I had my children (I have four) and worked in marketing. I missed it intensely but was pleased to have some fresh industry experience to draw on and a better work-life balance at a time when my children were young.

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

I started my teaching career to make more money whilst I was doing my fashion marketing degree. I would teach embroidery and sewing in the evenings. It was never meant to be my career, but it was in doing this job that I realised the pleasure of sharing knowledge with others and assisting them to reach their goals.

After completing my degree, I was working in fashion but not earning a good wage (the fashion industry is very difficult if you are from a working-class background). I started to think about a move back to Liverpool and undertook a PGCE to widen my prospects.

I landed my first "proper" teaching role at a large FE college in Liverpool, thrown in at the deep end aged 25, suddenly responsible for 100 fashion Btec students. It was a steep learning curve and I made lots of mistakes along the way, but these have helped me to become a better teacher. I thought I had to prove something, as a young lecturer, and tried to do everything on my own. I now realise it takes a community of practitioners to teach students well.

Briefly describe what a day at work looks like for you

​My working day always starts with me checking Twitter. This has been my lifeline over the past year. A way to connect with the wider community in FE, genuine connections where everyone supports one another. This always lifts my mood ready for the day ahead. 

I will then share something new on the trainee teacher Microsoft Teams pages. Maybe an article, a news story, a motivational quote, or I may just ask "how are you?". This is something I am trying to do more of. Opening dialogue about mental health in teaching is vital now more than ever. 

Then I will check my diary. I will normally have one or two observations with trainees booked in. This is the best part of my role, going out across the sector, observing the wonderful work our mentors do with trainees in different settings, including FE colleges, sixth forms, SEND specialist schools and training providers. 

I've taken greater ownership of my diary recently and filled it with teach meets or webinars, normally Thinking Environment spaces. #CuriousFE is a fortnightly Zoom meeting born out of my desire to start a research group at the college (which we have now called @ThinkHuBUK). Following this, a group of educators in FE/HE all interested in the topic of research groups nationally now meet virtually once a fortnight. 

I will always spend some time reading in my day, largely because I'm doing a doctorate but also because it leads to new knowledge that I can then pass on. I'm currently reading Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Oh, and planning and marking – that goes without saying!

What motivates you in your workplace?

The trainees, daily, motivate me; we are a widening-participation college. As such, many of the trainee teachers have been through life battles, having financial struggles, mental health problems, career responsibilities and yet still having endurance to persevere and complete a PGCE or Cert Ed. They make me smile and laugh, each cohort capturing my heart in different ways. We talk about care and compassion in education, but I also think it's love, a love for what I do and who I work with. 

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

I recently sent an email to a previous student whom I taught three years ago on an access-to-education course. I wanted to see how he was getting on. He was from the local area, which is one of the most deprived areas of the UK. He is one of the most kind, articulate and intelligent students I've had the pleasure to teach but he was so full of self-doubt. He wasn't sure if he was going to pursue a career in primary teaching, as he lacked confidence. I got a quick email response from him to say he was in his final year of his degree, due to gain a first, about to embark on a primary PGCE in September. He had wanted to email myself and my colleague to tell us "I wrote my last assignment on the 'transformative power of FE in the life of working-class students', which really helped me to reflect on how far I've come and what an important role you played as tutor/mentor." It made me cry and reminded me of the reason I work in FE. 

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

Yes, more so this year than ever actually. Despite the challenges, I have made such vast connections through the Twittersphere, through webinars, online conferences; with much greater open access to these spaces this year than in previous years. The joy of learning new edtech skills has reinvigorated my practice and I believe the pandemic has led to real connections between staff, colleagues and students, a feeling of "we are all in this together". 

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

The transition to T levels, I don't think that wave has hit us yet. The constant battle to raise the voice in FE, to fight against constant reform is hard. A government that doesn't listen to the people on the frontline and values HE voices over FE, ploughs the money and resources into all other sectors of education. For example, the recent implementation of the Early Career Framework and the funding going into that for primary and secondary NQTs is great, but FE was left out of the equation again. We will continue to battle through, though, despite the lack of support. The government acknowledges the sector's importance but fails to see the disparity in the way we are treated. 

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

I hope that it is full of joy and that there are more specific roles and pathways for teachers in the sector to progress, to undertake professional development that matters to them, being given the time to grow as part of their working week. 

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

A specific pot of money for each lecturer in FE to take time to develop themselves; through research, industry experience, upskilling, learning from other cross-sector colleagues, improving their digital skills. Giving teachers autonomy and trusting them to choose what is right for their progression. Enabling each teacher to find love in their jobs again. 

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