From education to employment


Arnie Skelton, Head of Business Development Unit, Epping Forest College

As it’s the festive season, I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight some of the little things that make a big difference at our college; things that cost little, other than personal commitment and effort – and a little imagination – but reap positive rewards in terms of staff motivation and morale, profile in the community, staff-learner connection, and a genuine contribution to cultural change.

The College has a commitment to PRIDE – 5 core values, which are:

  • Putting students first
  • Rewarding relationships
  • Inspiring people
  • Delivering excellent service
  • Exceeding expectations

To emphasise their importance, they are integrated in the staff appraisal process, and we have annual awards for staff and students who have excelled in any of these 5 values.

All of the 12 items listed actively support one or more of these key values.

Here they are – in no particular order. Your college may have the same or something similar – if so, you’ll know their value.

If not – why not give them a go?

1: Open piano in reception

We have a simple piano in reception, which anyone can play, at any time. It’s amazing – staff, students, even visitors, tinkle the keyboard. It creates a fabulous atmosphere, and reveals talent that would otherwise go unappreciated – and unleashed!

2: Leadership Huddle

At 9.30 every morning the leadership team meet, standing, in the main reception area, and each member runs through what they have on their agenda that day. 15 minutes maximum – and we all get to know what’s happening – and have a chance to meet and say hello, before the business of the day flings us to the four corners, and beyond.

Standing works – no chance of settling into an easy chair – and it’s right beside our fantastic coffee bar, so I get a chance for a latte and a bun: a great start to the day. And by the way, we are very visible, as a working team, to everyone passing through reception (and staff and learners quickly learn where we are at least once every day!!).

3: Meet, greet and check…

Every morning at least 3 managers are at the college entrance, meeting, greeting and checking. We’ve established that it’s important for us to be visible, and to be welcoming – a live and physical presence that says ‘ we care about, and value, you being here’.

We are also making a concerted effort to be really consistent about learners wearing their i/d, and not hoods and caps; so every morning we say hello, smile, and politely remind those affected to wear one and not the other as they arrive…and it is working.

Working together, visibly supporting each other, day after day, has made a real difference…learners know who we are, and that we are approachable; more and more learners are lanyarded as they arrive, and take off caps and hoods as they approach – and it has had the by-product of positively affecting learner behaviour as they arrive (or latest Ofsted report this week described learner behaviour as “impeccable”).

4: Daily motivational…

Like most colleges, we have plasma screens around the building, and they are very useful for a range of messages. The one that stands out for me, though, is the daily motivational – a motivational saying or quotation – initially for learners, but in fact, for everyone.

It’s a daily event, changed daily, and repeated that day on our website and on our twitter feed….something else that helps create and embed a positive culture….

5: Colour-coded lanyards

Simple, but a really effective communication tool. Our lanyards are colour coded, to signify different staff functions. For example red is for staff, turquoise for learners; but we also have different lanyard colours for our safeguarding specialists, for example, and those qualified for first aid….

6: Fab/drab

In all public areas there are two A3 laminated posters: fab and drab – and alongside them, a pad of post its and a pen. Everyone – staff, learners and visitors – are encouraged to write on a post it what is ‘fab’ or ‘drab’ about their experience, and stick it on the appropriate poster.

These are collected in by any of the leadership team, as soon as we notice them, and they are collated and form part of our feedback and improvement process…

7: Special campaigns…

There’s always something new happening on Fridays. Sometimes it is ‘Fruity Friday’ where we have struck a deal with the local supermarket (Sainsbury’s) to provide a particular fruit for learners that morning, for free – one week it may be bananas, and another, apples.

Another theme that’s popular is ‘Free Hug Friday’ – again, staff in appropriate t-shirts are available to give and to receive…entirely optional, of course. It’s superficially a bit of fun, but again helps embed a culture message of ‘how we do things around here’ – and again has the effect of bringing staff and learners together.

Others that deserve a mention are our ‘Believe in Kindness’ ongoing campaign, as well as ‘Pay It Forward’ and ‘Don’t Walk By’ (for example if you see litter, or hear abusive language). All have a real ripple effect on the organisation and its culture.

8: Free breakfasts and wellbeing…

This is pretty common practice now in many FE colleges, but ours are a full English on most days, plus the opportunity to offer something new and nutritious which, if paid for, might not otherwise be sampled…these are followed most weeks by a ‘wellbeing’ session – 30 minutes for staff or students, before classes begin – from money matters to mindfulness….

9: Regular all staff briefings

Led by the Principal, but often delivered by other staff, and always including one or more of the leadership team, it’s a regular opportunity to ensure all staff get the same message at the same time, live and in person…and often it is two-way: an opportunity to exchange views too.

10: The TLA Café…

We have a small but dedicated and brilliant team of learner coaches, and they have their own ‘shop window’ called the TLA Café. So part of their role is to promote good teaching, learning and assessment practice, from within and without.

It’s a physical space within the building – a former classroom – that has the look and feel of a café – with products on display and available to use – with a menu of offerings.

It’s also virtual – it has its own presence on the college website, where any staff member can quickly and easily find out the latest tasty offering…

11: 5 a day…

Not fruit, but contact. There is always a danger of a leadership team becoming remote from the learners, detached from their world. So we all have a commitment, individually, to have 5 points of contact with learners every day. We’re not monitored on this, and we don’t have to report back – but it’s a nudge to us all to remember the power of personal contact – something else, quite small, that can and does make a big difference…

12: Loose change…

This is one from me; I always make sure I have some loose change on me as I walk through the building (usually from meeting to meeting). I like to be able to offer to buy someone a coffee or tea, but it’s amazing how this little thing can have a big impact. For example, I stopped and chatted to a learner who was ‘starving’ and was on the way to the chocolate bar dispenser; 30 seconds later she was on her way back, frustrated – I asked what was up, and she said she was 10p short – so I gave her 10p.   You had to be there to see the effect: people (let alone senior staff) don’t do that. Actually – here – yes we do….epping forest college logo

Arnie Skelton, Head of Business Development Unit, Epping Forest College

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