TO say that Stratford College is experiencing a period of change is something of an understatement.
In the space of a few weeks before Christmas it received an ‘in need of improvement’ Ofsted report, swiftly lost its principal of eight years’ standing and acquired a new chairman of governors.
In spite of these eruptions, however, both the new chairman, Tony Jefferson, and the current acting principal, Nicola Mannock, are thinking positively about the future.
Given that Mr Jefferson originates from Northallerton and Mrs Mannock from Hull, this could be attributed to good old fashioned Yorkshire grit.
“There’s an awful lot of change going on,” Mr Jefferson told me when I met him and Mrs Mannock in the principal’s study last week.
“The education landscape is shifting. The management team and the governors are working on a strategy for the college. What we’re focusing on now are the opportunities that are around.”
When I asked him what these opportunities were, he said: “I don’t think the college has maximised the opportunities open to it, particularly given the name Stratford-upon-Avon, which is excellent in the international market. And we have a very good working relationship with Warwick University and its international foundation programme.”
The Warwick International Foundation Programme (Warwick IFP) is a nine-month, fast-track pre-university academic programme, designed specifically for students who wish to become undergraduates at the University of Warwick.
The programme includes a range of academic subjects, as well as English and study skills and is co-ordinated by the international office at the university.
Given Stratford College’s intake of foreign students this link with Warwick IFP is significant. Out of a total of 1,800 full-time students and 4,000 part-time, there are 243 foreign students from 33 different countries.
The financial implications of this international dimension are also significant. It costs £13 million a year to run Stratford College and the foreign students who go there make a hefty contribution of around £2.5 million towards these running costs. (They each pay £12,000 a year to be a student there.)
“This is where the name Stratford-upon-Avon matters,” said Mr Jefferson. “For a market town we have an international name and a formidable brand.”
Mrs Mannock said: “We’re in the process of working on a new strategy with exciting possibilities. We’re continually searching out new opportunities and within the next few weeks we shall have worked them out.”
The Ofsted inspectors rated Stratford College as a Grade 3 institution that required improvement. The aim now was to achieve a rating of “outstanding.”
“It’s about good leadership and the staff on board,” said Mrs Mannock. “It’s an opportunity to bring the students and the staff to have an outstanding experience when they’re here.”
Given that “leadership” is a priority, it’s just as well that the college has Mr Jefferson at the helm. His specialism during his career in financial services, the gas industry and manufacturing was leadership and management development. (And he’s added the role of councillor to his list of tasks by winning a Stratford Town Council by-election last month and becoming the only Conservative currently sitting on the authority.)
He reckons that his job as chairman of the college governors takes up two to two and a half days a week. “It’s a totally different world, even from five years ago,” he said. “Finances have changed, the inspection regime has changed and the need for more strategy and planning has changed.”
Both Mr Jefferson and Mrs Mannock see the college as a high-level operation. “We’re under much greater scrutiny by the funding agencies, and that applies to all colleges,” said Mr Jefferson. “The whole role of governors has changed in the last five years. It’s a role that demands a significant amount of time and commitment.”
Despite the emphasis on its international aspirations the college also wants to strengthen its involvement with the local community. It is proud of its links with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but Mr Jefferson said: “I think we could have done more to be part of the community. We need to strengthen our links with the local community.”
With 450 full-time and part-time staff, and several thousand students, Stratford College is indeed an important part of the fabric of the town.
It now sees itself embarking on a bright but challenging future after what has clearly not been one of the happiest periods in its long history.
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