How principal will take Lowestoft College on improvement journey
PUBLISHED: 17:00 02 June 2015
Journal editor ANDREW PAPWORTH interviews Lowestoft College principal Jo Pretty about her vision for the college's future.
When Jo Pretty took over at Lowestoft College, it faced some difficult challenges.
Shortly after she joined as interim principal in August 2014, its third senior leader had left in quick succession after an external consultant’s report had said the St Peter’s Street college was not making the progress it needed to after a poor Ofsted.
The college also faced having to make tough choices after a £1.3million overspend in its staffing budget.
And even if things had been going perfectly, all colleges face an uncertain world, in which it is difficult to rely government funding and the nature of education and what employers are looking for is constantly changing.
Mrs Pretty’s solution was get the college to re-think some of its basic questions and ask where it was going in the future.
Asked what her first job was on starting, she said: “It was about actually establishing strong leadership.
“The staff didn’t have that direction and the college needed direction.”
As well as helping to recruit new members of a strategic leadership team, Mrs Pretty led a strategic review of the college’s aims, saying: “From those come the drivers for everything else.”
Top of the agenda was improving quality for the students, given that Ofsted had previously criticised inconsistencies in teaching standards.
That, Mrs Pretty said, has been done by setting a clear improvement plan where the expected standards are set, regular review meetings held to see whether the college is meeting them and, if appropriate, targets re-defined to ensure staff and students are being continuously challenged.
She also pledged to bring about a change in staff culture - but said one of most important areas of the college’s future was to establish greater links with business, saying: “You have to have employer engagement.
“Working with companies to shape their future workforces, securing relevant work experience for young people and planning college strategies in line with business and technology developments is essential for a modern college.”
“Further education plays a big role in supporting the economic development of this area. We must deliver a high quality, aspirational and innovative curriculum at our college.
“I have been meeting many more employers recently, understanding how we can work together to develop a curriculum and learning experience that meets their needs.”
In recent months the college has made significant progress on its improvement journey, with Ofsted praising the “decisive action” it had taken to turn things around.
More than £4million of investment has been made into the campus to create 3,000sq m of teaching space and increase the college’s energy efficiency. However, Ofsted still graded the college as “requires improvement” in January and pointed to inconsistencies in the standard of teaching.
Mrs Pretty said staff were currently on a journey of change - but said: “Staff at the college should be proud of the great progress they have made since September 2014.”
Her vision now is for Lowestoft College to rival colleges in areas like the Humber in being a flagship provider for training in the maritime, oil and gas and energy provision sectors.
That is particularly important, she said, following the announcement earlier this year that Scottish Power Renewables will build East Anglia One, the world’s largest wind farm, off the Lowestoft coastline.
“Providing skills for manufacturing, engineering, maritime and energy-related industries is essential - not just to the town’s future but much wider within the region and beyond,” she said.
“The college has a great track record of this and Ofsted has recognised that we have outstanding resources for our students in these areas.
“We must continue to work with employers to provide a strong talent pipeline providing high-level technical skills.”
Richard Perkins, who is chairman of the Lowestoft College Corporation, said of Mrs Pretty: “In essence she has had a nine-month interview process.
“We are delighted with the leadership she had provided to the college and the wonderful direction she is taking the college, for staff and students.
“Jo is very good at building teams and has already generated resilience and a new culture in the college.”
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