College groups working to develop Retrofit skills across the region

Education Partnership North East (EPNE) and the Education Training Collective (Etc.) are set to lead a retrofit revolution which will deliver skills, jobs, and growth across the region.

Etc. EPNE Retrofit Partnership_1

The two college groups have been announced as official partners of the Retrofit Training Academy CIC to deliver leading retrofit qualifications and training to thousands of people in the North East and Tees Valley.

From their respective training academy hubs both groups will roll out a wide range of courses aimed at upskilling those already working in the trades, in addition to offering retraining opportunities for jobseekers, part of a drive to contribute to the training and development of 400,000 retrofitters to help meet the Government’s 2050 Net Zero targets.

As two of only nine hubs in the UK, and the only accredited training partners in the North of England, EPNE and the Etc. will work collaboratively to ensure the delivery of construction, renewable energy and retrofit skills, resulting in local jobs and growth.

After several years of visioning between Sunderland College and Sunderland City Council, the North East Academy CIC will be based at the upcoming £19m Housing and Innovation Construction and Skills Academy (HICSA) at Sheepfolds in Sunderland.

The cutting-edge training facility – part of the Riverside Sunderland development – will see people from Wearside trained in both modern methods and the technical skills needed to build smart or manufacturing homes, in addition to approved qualifications and the technical expertise and competence to retrofit older homes.

Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive of EPNE, said: “This exciting new strategic partnership will see Redcar and Cleveland College, part of the Education Training Collective, and EPNE’s Sunderland and Northumberland colleges come together to develop and deliver a regional response to the current skills shortages within the construction Industries.

“We have great things planned and I know our colleges are going to really make a real and meaningful difference for the region.”

The Etc. academy will be based at Redcar and Cleveland College’s new Clean Energy Education Hub, a cutting-edge specialist £3.2m training centre focussed on giving people the skills to meet the demands of Teesside’s growing renewable and low carbon sector.

Grant Glendinning, Chief Executive Officer and Group Principal of the Etc. said: “As educators we have a vital part to play in equipping people with the green skills to meet economy demands in readiness to help achieve Net Zero targets.

“The launch of our Clean Energy Education Hub at Redcar and Cleveland College, under the leadership of our Executive Principal Jason Faulkner, is testament to our ongoing commitment to better understand and respond to employer needs as they move towards cleaner and greener ways of operating.

“Our partnership with the Retrofit Academy CIC Hub feels like a natural next step, and we look forward to working with colleagues at EPNE to meet retrofit skills needed now and in the future across the region.”

Retrofitting existing residential properties is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to reducing carbon footprint, as heat leaks through windows, doors, and uninsulated walls, particularly in older properties.

The Retrofit Academy CIC works with local authorities and colleges across the UK to drive retrofit knowledge and skills, creating partnerships to train potential retrofit coordinators and assessors, enabling them to identify areas for improvement in a home such as the need for insulation, solar panels, and air source heat pumps.

Chief Executive Officer David Pierpoint said: “We are delighted to welcome Education Partnership North East (EPNE) and the Education Training Collective (Etc.) onto our network of official training partners.

“We are excited to be partnering with colleges that share our vision and passion for delivering green skills. The provision of essential retrofit skills in the North East region means we can collectively accelerate the workforce required to reach net zero targets.”


Royal honours for two former Etc. chiefs

Stepping down from the helm of a booming Teesside college group was always going to be a big move for education stalwarts Mark White and Phil Cook.

Mark White and Phil Cook

But their years of hard work and commitment to delivering skills and training for school leavers and adults of all ages in the Tees Valley, haven’t gone unnoticed.

The former leaders of the Education Training Collective (Etc.) have earned a spot on the King’s Birthday Honours list, both recognised for their services to further education.

Mark, who was chair of the group’s governing board, will be made a CBE, while former chief executive and group principal, Phil, is to become an OBE.

“I am thrilled and humbled by this award,” said Mark, who is a familiar face to many, having moved to the area as a student 47 years ago and making it his home ever since.

Phil, who in his nine years as Etc. chief executive led the transformation and growth of the college group, including mergers with NETA Training and Redcar and Cleveland College, said: “I feel very proud but also lucky.”

Phil has worked in the further education sector for more than 30 years. The former deputy principal of Barnsley College joined Stockton Riverside College and Bede Sixth Form College as chief executive in 2013 where he would go on to see the turnaround and growth of the Teesside-based college group.

Retiring from the Etc. last summer, Phil, who also served three years as one of the Secretary of State’s National Leaders of Further Education, said: “I have always believed that further education can truly change people’s lives and it’s been a privilege to work in the sector for so many years.”

Mark built a lifelong career at Teesside University, up until his retirement in 2016. Over the years he has dedicated countless hours to a host of organisations, including 27 years committed to the governing boards of the colleges that now make up the Etc.

Retiring from his role as chair of the Etc. last year and chair of AoC Sport (the membership body for college sport in England) earlier this year, Mark is a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham and chair of Thornaby-on-Tees Town Deal Board. He is also chair of Stockton-on-Tees Strategic Education Board, a member of the council of governors of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and chair of the Association of Colleges Charitable Trust. He was made an OBE in 2016 for services to education, particularly in Teesside.

Despite the royal acknowledgment, both Mark and Phil are quick to shine the spotlight on those around them.

Phil said: “My family have been incredibly supportive throughout my career, and I have been fortunate to have worked with many talented and kind colleagues over the years.”

While Mark added: “I have worked with wonderful, dedicated people and, to me, this award recognises and celebrates the value and importance of our essential further education sector.”

The Etc. incorporates Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and The Skills Academy (Billingham).

Stuart Blackett, chairman of the Etc. governing board, said: “We are incredibly proud of both Mark and Phil and the incredible legacy they have left behind for us to continue to build on here at the Etc., for our learners, colleagues and communities.”

Silver standard recognises Etc. colleges’ drive to go green

Whether it’s cutting down on electricity use, car sharing, or swap shops, thinking green is fast becoming part of the ethos at the Education Training Collective (Etc.).

Now the group of Teesside colleges has seen its efforts recognised with a silver award from the Investors in the Environment (iiE) and recertification from Carbon Neutral Britain for the second year running.

“As a college group working with thousands of people every year, we made a decision to lead by example when it comes to reducing our environmental impact,” said director of marketing and sustainability lead, Erika Marshall.

“What started out as small steps such as reducing the number of plastic bottles in our fridges and swapping single-use plastic cutlery for more sustainable options has grown to a whole group approach.”

For the Etc., which comprises Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and The Skills Academy, greener thinking led to the creation of a Green Initiatives Group, made up of more than 30 volunteers from across the college sites.

“By working together and sharing ideas the initiatives have just become bigger and more ambitious,” said Erika.

Efforts to reduce the group’s collective carbon footprint have included increasing recycling, reduced general waste and energy consumption, along with clothing, book and gift swaps and the introduction of a car share scheme.

Now with the iiE Green Award in their sights, the colleges are increasingly turning their attention to ways students and staff can reduce their carbon emissions both in the classroom and at home.

Erika said: “By spreading the word and making more sustainable choices a part of college life we hope to spread the word, through friends and family, to our wider communities.

“Making more sustainable choices is not just good for the environment but also can be beneficial to households facing the challenges of the cost of living and fuel crises.”

Jo Holmes, managing director of environmental sustainability consultancy, Genee Consulting Ltd, said: “During their iiE membership over the past year, Etc. have made some really positive strides when tackling the impact of transport on their overall sustainability, as well as commendable work towards managing their waste.

“Through their excellent communications and campaigns, they have been able to integrate sustainability into the day-to-day of the organisation and we’ve loved seeing their progress. We’re positive that 2023 will see Etc. reach green iiE accreditation.”

NAW2023: Stockton Riverside College Assistant Principal, Rebecca Cadden, talks apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have always, rightly, been celebrated for the on-the-job training they provide, but also for their unique potential for equipping apprentices with ‘Skills for Life’.

Stockton Riverside College Assistant Principal, Rebecca Cadden

At the Education Training Collective (Etc.) our colleges are situated in Teesside, where trades such as welding, manufacturing and engineering did literally provide skills for life – that was their basis. The apprentice would start on a pathway and continue on that route, either in the same role or progressing through levels – often until they reached retirement.

Since those days, other sectors, job roles and industries have recognised the benefits, using those same methodologies to create new apprenticeships – in industries such as creative, digital and media – this has resulted in a variety of on-the-job training that is richer than ever before, not just for our youngsters but for adults too.

In the last decade, apprenticeships have experienced something of a roller-coaster, spiking in terms of popularity, going from being the ‘in’ careers pathway, falling out of favour and then back again – often with overt alignment with other programmes, such as traineeships, and ‘return to work’ schemes. And that’s not to mention the jolt that pandemic lockdowns have served up.

As reported in FE Week (January 2023), according to provisional in-year Department for Education data apprenticeship starts in England dropped by six percent in the first quarter of 2022/23 and are three percent down on the same period in 2019, pre-pandemic.

But, as National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, should this be reason for despondency, on a journey that we have already likened to a rollercoaster? I would like to think not. The same data shows that take up of higher apprenticeships has continued to grow, at our colleges we have witnessed students moving on to higher apprenticeship programmes that they could never have imagined a few years ago.

Today, T Levels are the new skills ‘kid on the block’ but far from working in competition with an apprenticeship, the reality could be that they work alongside, offering the employer a more holistic approach to skills for the future, and the learner a broader scope of post-secondary choice than ever before.

As is always the case when a new learning route is introduced, there is a lot to unpick and understand, but with T Levels having been on the roll-out across the UK since 2020, they are now becoming more embedded, and a solid part of the curriculum offer.

For employers, T Levels should not be a distraction from an apprenticeship, rather they are complementary. Each offers their own benefits to both the learner and employer – right learner, right employer, right course.

At Stockton Riverside College – part of the Etc. – we believe in apprenticeships and we champion our employers and communities to recognise the role that an apprentice plays in society and the workplace; it is this recognition and understanding that is the fundamental difference between a student leaving education with just the bare essentials and one who flourishes, completing their apprenticeship ready to be part of the workforce of the future. I can think of so many examples where the learner has thrived and as a result, the employer has seen their business positively impacted.

When we think about ‘Skills for Life’, we’re not just considering those learnt in the classroom, but those honed in the workplace – traditional practical skills in a chosen trade or discipline and a real understanding of what it means to be in the world of work. Surely these, combined, either as part of a T Level, a mixture of classroom-based learning with work experience or an apprenticeship, are what make up the perfect blend when it comes to building skills for life!

It’s a great result for students at Bede Sixth Form

There’s been plenty to celebrate at Billingham’s Bede Sixth Form College this results day.

All the hard work paid off as Bede students achieved a 99% A level pass rate, with 100% success in 16 subjects, and more students achieving the highest grades.

Bede Sixth Form College

“It is incredible to see our learners doing so well and getting the results they deserve, particularly following the challenges they have faced in recent years,” said Bede’s acting principal Patrick Jordan.

“This is the first time these students have undertaken the formal national examination process, and they have shown massive resilience and produced a strong set of results here at Bede that they should be massively proud of.”

Results day success included high grades of A* to B up almost 5% at the college compared to pre-covid results, and 7% of Bede students this summer achieved an A*, the highest possible grade.

All of this comes just weeks after Bede, a part of the Education Training Collective, achieved a ‘Good’ Ofsted result with ‘Outstanding’ features, including leadership and management, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and education programmes for young people.

The sixth form also recently announced a £2.4m construction project to expand its facilities, increasing capacity for an additional 200 students, with nine new classrooms and breakout spaces.

Bede currently delivers a wider range of A level and A level equivalent subjects, along with full-time study options in sport and public services, to more than 700 students.

For the class of 2022 many will now head off to their first-choice universities, apprenticeships, and future goals.

Patrick, a former Bede student himself, said: “Against a backdrop of disruption and uncertainty for all young people over the last few years, this is a really solid set of results that will now set our students up for their future choices. We look forward to seeing all that they now go on to achieve.”

Education Training Collective rated Ofsted ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ features

High praise from Ofsted is another great result for the colleges, students and staff, that make up the Education Training Collective (Etc.).

In its first full inspection since the merger of Stockton Riverside College and Redcar and Cleveland College, the group, which also includes Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training and The Skills Academy (Billingham), has been rated ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ features.

Ofsted principals 2022

The report, published today, describes a college group where students are “very proud to study” and they benefit from “a strong culture of positive respect”.

Group principal and chief executive, Phil Cook, said: “As a group our aim, above all else, is to provide high quality local colleges for local people. Gaining outstanding for leadership and management is a fantastic accolade for the group, but also and importantly for those stakeholders we work with; you do not achieve outstanding without excellent partnerships that have a direct impact on our students learning.”

The college group was also rated ‘Outstanding’ for behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and education programmes for young people, and rated ‘Good’ in all other areas. Phil added: “It is reasonable for parents, stakeholders and our communities to assume our provision for young people is now outstanding, as that’s what Ofsted has said and that is brilliant news. For other aspects of our provision such as our apprenticeships and our work with adults and high needs students, Ofsted has commended us and again our communities can be assured that such services are judged as being really really good.”

It also marks a milestone for Redcar and Cleveland College. The college had previously received an inadequate rating before merger, but in the view of Ofsted has been “transformed” and is now considered “the college of first choice” for many young people living in the borough.

Preparing to hand over the reins later this year, after nine years leading the college group, Phil said: “To deliver the service our communities deserve takes hard work and determination, from our staff, leaders, governing body and, of course, our amazing students, not least as we faced the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

“That’s why it is fantastic to now see our incredible teams, across the group, and our partners, receive external recognition.”

Inspectors also recognised the support that learners, of all ages and abilities, receive and the enrichment programme that “helps them to develop their wider employability skills, confidence, and resilience.”

There was further praise for the curriculum, which is shaped to meet local economy and skill demands while, working with specialist providers, the group is able to offer a “niche provision” giving people access to local jobs that would normally be out of reach.

The report said: “Students and apprentices benefit from useful and relevant training in their local communities which meets the needs of employers and the priorities of the local enterprise partnership.”

This has resulted in exciting projects in the pipeline, further supporting their local communities, such as the addition of Redcar’s Clean Energy Education Hub, plans to extend facilities at NETA Training and developments at Bede.

Chairman of the Etc. governing board, Mark White OBE DL, said: “As a board of governors we welcome this Ofsted result which is testament to the commitment of all our teams and the work they do to deliver for our communities.”

Retiring in the summer after 27 years on the boards of the colleges that make up the Etc., culminating in his current role as chair, Mark added: “I am extremely proud to have been a part of this incredible group of colleges, of everything it has achieved and everything it will go on to achieve in the future.”

Education Training Collective announces new Chair of the Board

The Education Training Collective (Etc.) today announced that Stuart Blackett will be taking the reins as the college group’s Chairman of the Board.

The chief financial officer at Railpen will be joined by Dot Smith, as the newly appointed Vice Chair.

Together the pair are looking forward to the opportunities ahead and leading the group to further success. Stuart said: “It is an exciting time to be a part of the college group, and to be here in the Tees Valley where there is so much potential.”

A financial and strategic leader with a passion for the area and a strong belief in the value of education, dad-of-two Stuart is looking forward to the job ahead.

Surrounded by what he describes as “a really great board of governors”, and following in the footsteps of current chairman, Mark White OBE DL, Stuart said: “Etc. is an important organisation with a great responsibility. We are building on a strong foundation and that’s a great time to do anything.”

With its roots in Teesside, the Education Training Collective is made up of Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College, The Skills Academy and Tees Valley Catering.

Inspired from the moment he first walked through the door, Stuart said: “To have the opportunity to learn in a college like ours must be fantastic. When I look back to my own school days and those draughty prefab classrooms, it is like a different world, and I am proud to now be a part of it.”

A dad of two boys, 13 and 11, Stuart said his focus in recent years has increasingly sharpened on education and the opportunities available to young people. As a part of the college group’s governing board, that has rapidly become a priority.

He said: “It’s not only about the 16 to 21-year-olds. There are people with so many diverse skills and backgrounds, of all ages, from different walks of life. We need to provide opportunities for as many of those people as we can, and we have an incredible platform here to achieve that.”

Working with Railpen for 21 years, a governor at Red House School, and former vice chairman of the Railway Housing Association in Darlington, Stuart said: “Every organisation I have worked for or with has a strong purpose. Here at the Etc. we are providing people with opportunities, perhaps the most important being a chance to change their life.”

And he believes there’s much more to look forward to.

He said: “New developments across the college group reflect the changing landscape of our economy and position us well for exciting opportunities ahead. We are seeing a generation with a different skills demand and the college group is well placed to facilitate that.”

Joining the Etc. as a governor, alongside a host of other commitments, as well as the demands of a young family, Stuart explained: “The ethos of the organisation, the staff, and what we are here to do, really resonates with me.”

Looking to his fellow board members and colleagues across the group, he said: “Being surrounded by fantastic people has made my role as governor, and now the transition to chairman, so much easier.

“I didn’t set out to become chair of the board, but what an honour!”