Wednesday, July 18, 2018

‘Strong will’ for Easton & Otley to succeed

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under News & Business

Easton & Otley principal Jane Townsend is building closer links with the region’s farming community. Richard Shepherd-Barron reports.

Jane Townsend has made a difference in the short time she has been at Easton & Otley College. Appointed as acting principal following a disappointing Ofsted report last year, she was recently confirmed as principal on a permanent basis.

“Our closeness to the farming community is critical,” she says. “We need to make sure that our delivery of courses is right for them as well as our students. We’re talking to our faming contacts and listening to their needs – joining the dots.”

Ms Townsend’s appointment followed an Ofsted inspection in 2017. Their report painted a bleak picture, ranking the college’s overall effectiveness as inadequate and with similar comments about other aspects of its activities.

The inspectors criticised variable teaching quality, student achievements and low attendance rates.  The shock of this report, after a “good” one in 2013, persuaded the governors to take action and many changes have happened at the college.

Strong will

With more than 20 years’ experience of construction and engineering, Ms Townsend says she quickly settled in to her Easton & Otley role. With a strong will for the college succeed, she has provided stability and says she has been made feel welcome.

“The support of major farmers and growers in providing placement opportunities is a great help and gives our students the chance to put into effect what we’re teaching them,” she explains. “I believe strongly that we will continue our contacts with the industry.

“We want to make sure that project-based studies fit into the modern farming world with a broad education covering the many different aspects that are needed – both today and in the future. Subjects such as IT, mathematics and science are all relevant to farming.”

The college was formed in 2012 with the merger of Suffolk’s Otley College and Easton College in Norfolk to become East Anglia’s main land-based college. Both institutions had started out as agricultural colleges – Easton in 1951 and Otley in 1970.

Progress made

Today agricultural, horticultural and veterinary studies remain the main focus of courses. Further inspections report “reasonable progress” has been made in areas such as student behaviour, apprentice training and the general quality of teaching.

Having been deputy principal at Bicton College in Devon, Ms Townsend put into effect a comprehensive staff development programme at Easton & Otley, covering all aspects of teaching with a lot of time dedicated to planning the new academic year.

Progress has also been made in terms of staff management. The latest report, published at the end of May, says “much stronger” leadership is ensuring that teachers are now clear about being held accountable for the progress of their students.

As part of the improvements at the college, there have been some redundancies among staff. While regrettable, Ms Townsend says these have been necessary to bring the college within its budget and to tailor its offer of the type of courses demanded by students.

Rewarding careers

The range of courses on offer currently extends to business administration, countryside management, forestry and tree care, animal and veterinary studies, equine, floristry, fisheries, game-keeping, uniformed public service, sports and zoology.

“Our funds are always restricted but the industry needs well trained farm, managers, machinery operators, agronomists and livestock handlers. The courses here at the two colleges give students the confidence and ability to grow a rewarding career.”

The latest Ofsted report was a tremendous boost and “proves that the strategy that we’ve put in place is working,” says Ms Townsend.

“Our finances are under control and we’re living within our means,” she adds.

“We’re embarking on an ambitious programme of student recruitment, our commercial focus has been revitalised with the appointment of Fay Burrage as the new commercial and business director and we’ve vastly improved links with business partners investing in our future.”

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