EDUCATION FEATURE: Principal and chief executive of Boston College, Joanne Maher, shares her vision on further and higher education in Spalding
In April 2011, further and higher education put down roots in Spalding with the opening of a new campus run by Boston College.
Seven years later, more than 300 students are currently enrolled on a range of GCSE, A-Level, vocational and adult education courses provided at the campus in Red Lion Street, Spalding.
Overseeing the success of 7.000 students and the performance of almost 500 lecturers across five sites, along with a budget of just over £15million (according to the college's 2017 report and financial statements), qualified teacher and sports psychologist Joanne Maher.
Born in Cheshire town of Widnes and aged just 33, Ms Maher was chosen to succeed Amanda Mosek as principal and chief executive officer for Boston College in September 2017, having previously been deputy principal of Reaseheath College in her home county.
Ms Maher said: "Colleges are charitable organisations in that we don't make a profit but, instead, reinvest our surpluses into students.
"Boston College is financially outstanding and, despite the further and higher education sector being in its eight year of austerity, we're very mindful of supporting our staff which we've done by being able to award modest pay increases to our staff.
"We continue to invest in IT, we have a £4.2million plan for a new centre to train engineering, manufacturing and food technology students and we're growing a higher education offering by working with the University of Derby to increase the number of honours-level courses here.
"Meanwhile, our achievement rates for further education are best shown by the fact that we've attained 100 per cent in A-Level passes for the third year running and a two per cent rise in the performance of our apprenticeship students and a seven per cent increase in our higher education success rates for subjects, including English and Maths."
Within months of Ms Maher becoming only the sixth principal of Boston College in its 54-year history, an Ofsted inspector arrived on campus.
However, the subsequent report provided Ms Maher and her leadership team with good news, and a good judgement, following the Ofsted inspector's conclusion that the college's "high standards of provision" had been "maintained".
Ms Maher said: "We have high standards that we want to hold ourselves to and I've always set out to get people to perform to their maximum potential.
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"There's nothing better than seeing a group of students who we can help set up for a long employment history because we know the top performing students will go out from here and earn salaries, contributing to both local economy and region.
"In view of that, we're in partnerships with the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, Holbeach, Bakkavor Group, Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Lincolnshire County Council and South Holland District Council because we want to deliver a collaborative and complementary education provision in order to fill gaps in the food production process, looking at what resources we can attract into the area to support that."
One of Boston College's most outstanding success stories is ex-Thomas Cowley High School, Donington, student Stefan Howells (28) whose four-year catering and hospitality set him on course to work as a pastry chef with such culinary llegends as Raymond Blanc, Marcus Wareing and Swiss chef Laurent Eperon.
Speaking to the Spalding Guardian in 2015, after his appointment as head pastry chef for Sir Richard Branson at his Caribbean home in the British Virgin Islands, Stefan said: "I've met many amazing chefs, been to amazing restaurants and worked with some of the best chefs in the world.
"But it was Boston College that prepared me for a future in catering and gave me the passion to pursue my successful career
"It doesn’t matter if you’re not the best or in the top 10 per cent of the class, only you can set your limits and goals in life."
Ms Maher said: "We want to be the best that we can be which is why we've asked Ofsted to come back so we can have an 'Outstanding' rating from an inspection.
"That's what we're pushing for and it's the level we want to hold ourselves to.
"I've been incredibly lucky to come into a well-managed, academically established and very financially strong organisation.
"But it's not about me as an individual, it's about what's right for our students of which there are over 1,600 learners aged 16 to 19, 316 of them based in Spalding, 470 apprentices across all sites, 200 higher education students and 3,000 adult learners across the county."
The one cloud on the horizon for Boston College, along with further and higher education in general, is what Ms Maher described as the "eight year of austerity".
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Nuffield Foundation, published in March, showed that "spending per student in 16-18 further education fell by eight per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
Meanwhile, "total funding for adult education and apprenticeships went down by 45 per cent in real term between 2009-10 and 2017-18.
Ms Maher said: "We've been working with the Association of Colleges to lobby central government in order to increase funding because the sector is in deficit.
"John Hayes, MP for South Holland and the Deepings, has been fantastic in offering his support to us and he is always willing to meet for detailed discussion around opportunities at the college.
"We're coming up to our 10,000 enrolment at the college, but we still want to raise the profile of what we're doing here which is to ensure that our Spalding campus is delivering high-quality further and higher education.
Spalding campus specialises in post-16 and adult education, including GCSE English and Maths, employment and skills training, health and social care, uniformed public services, accounting, teaching and business.
But its most widely known provision is in hairdressing and beauty therapy courses as part of the college's Style Academy.
Ms Maher said: "We believe that an adult education offer is right for Spalding because when you talk to employers, there's a high level of skills that they require.
"But we're also supporting unemployed people to be more skilled and to find work, growing our apprenticeship programmes whilst retaining our specialist courses like hairdressing and beauty.
"What sold Boston College to me in the first place was the quality of the curriculum and the well-managed finances, knowing that I had the opportunity to build on something that was already good."
One of the college's most recent innovations has been a Be Brilliant Foundation designed to raise the aspirations of student.
Combining financial assistance, targeted support for "particularly talented learners" and entry into international skills competitions, Be Brilliant is a charitable foundation run by the college which, in turn, encourages students and staff to raise funds towards it.
Ms Maher said: "I got injured at a young age when I was aspiring to a sporting career.
"But I learned that whether you're in sport, education or business, a high performance mindset means the same thing.
"We're trying to be more visible in the community because we want Spalding to be part of a localised, high-quality curriculum offering.
"Transport shouldn't be a barrier for students coming to college and the Be Brilliant Foundation is part of our status as one of the top performing colleges in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands.
"I am fully aware that there have been fantastic individuals before me and there will be fantastic individuals after me.
"I'm only a custodian of the role and bearing in mind that principals spend, on average, only seven years in their roles, I want to make sure that I'm adding to the legacy of Boston College.
"As a qualified teacher and sports psychologist, I'm passionate about what I do, I have high energy levels, I'm highly committed and I have a wealth of experience in both the educational and commercial aspects of running a college.
"The future of Boston College is about growing our higher education and apprenticeships provision, delivering an offer that young people, parents and employers are happy with.
"My continuing drive to improve the college is based on the belief that education can change lives, drive growth and foster prosperity."