My name is Chris Wilkinson and I am 28 years old lecturer of Law, having taught since September 2011. I am a law graduate and correspondingly lead on the AS/A2 Law programme, having spent as much time in my career leading as well as teaching Law.
I was a young 23 year old trainee teacher of law in 2011 when I was given the opportunity at New College Durham to deliver on the AS/A2 law programme. Due to staff sickness, and owing to my teaching and learning practice that impressed senior post holders, I was asked if I would lead on the programme with my subject specific knowledge provisionally until January 2012. This eventually led to a permanent post which I have been in ever since.
I have ensured that every academic year brings a new challenge and this has been predominantly the reason for my suitability for this post.
Please can you tell us a little bit about your current role in FE? I am a lecturer in A-level law/politics at New College Durham. I teach 16-18 year olds for 5 hours a week per subject, which equates to 24 hours teaching a week (plus tutorial).
What are your key interests? I love to cycle and read. I am currently learning Italian as I like to travel there.
My key interest in the FE sector is developing ongoing links that we have with higher education institutions such as the compact scheme at Durham University.
My other key interest is extending the knowledge of my learners with field trips such as visits to the old bailey in London.
Do you have any other roles or responsibilities?
I’m head of the tutorial programme which includes leading the tutorial team and having pastoral responsibility.
Please tell us about your experience in FE?
I have had a generally positive experience in FE, as I have had a very good support network at New College Durham ever since being a trainee teacher on placement. My experience of FE has taught me to continue to offer that support to staff/students and to always be involved with projects to raise awareness of the sixth form and the wider community. For example, ‘Bite the Ballot’ was a recent sixth form initiative.
What prompted your decision to move into the FE sector?
Teaching law is predominately a post-16 subject so the decision to pursue a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (Cert Ed) led me into FE sector.
How do you find the FE sector?
I find FE different from the school environment. There is a culture amongst FE staff to ensure positive progression/destination throughout various milestones of the year and this does not stop throughout the year. The relationship amongst various schools (technology, art, sixth form etc.) is more competitive when recruiting students. This means that we must directly compete and attempt to outperform within our FE institution to gain students.
The structure is different also. Where the academic subjects are the foundation of the main sector, FE offers students more freedom of choice. This means that academic subjects like mine are tailored more for learners who wish to progress with that destination. Likewise, it allows for more bespoke opportunities for other students such as vocational.
How does FE teaching differ from the other roles/ experiences you have had?
I have only ever taught in FE.
How has working in FE helped your career?
My willingness and desire to broaden my skillset in FE has helped to develop my professionalism at a young age.
It was very important to my teaching profile starting so young because it has given me an expansive view of further education and trial and error of the process. I have therefore rewarded the faith of senior post holders ever since with outstanding results that has helped to raise my profile towards that of a good FE practitioner
What have you enjoyed most about your job in FE?
The students. Every day brings its own challenge, but sometimes seeing it through a 16 year old’s eyes can keep you young.
Do/did you face any particular challenges?
Typically in FE, funding and hours awarded means that sometimes our resources can be stretched. However, the work ethic and desire to raise the aspirations of students in FE generally helps us to prevail.
Have you got any advice for other academics/professionals planning to work in/return to FE?
Tip 1 – Be honest! Sometimes we all need to admit when we need help
Tip 2 – Enjoy the marginal gains you get when they come your way
Tip 3 – Help build that support network by helping when you can
What are the top 3 reasons you choose to work for your current institution?
- Support network – good, professional colleagues who know what they are doing
- Students – it is a widening participation GFE so an electric mix of students attend
- Reputation – Outstanding results year in, year out!