From education to employment

Learning From Fircroft: The Values College

Dr Lou Mycroft is a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.

Recently, at the Festival of Learning, Fircroft College won the Learning Provision Award in recognition of the “safe and welcoming environment they offer for students with multiple and complex needs”. This is in addition to their 2022 Green Gown Award, where they went up against seven universities in the category Campus Food and Health.

Fircroft is special. As one of only two adult residential colleges in England, they have a social justice mission – around sustainability, anti-racism, digital poverty and mental health – and were the first college to declare a Climate Change and Ecological Emergency in 2021. They work from the values out and I’ve been fortunate to help them with this over the last few years.

It’s a natural fit. I spent nearly two decades at The Northern College in Barnsley, which also had a social purpose mission. Fircroft is differently beautiful to the stately formality of Northern College. It used to be George Cadbury’s house and the spirit of Cadbury’s mission for students is still very present,

“to return to their work and dignify it, and to help their comrades, not to rise to a superior social position but to uplift the whole of their class.”

Fircroft may have those Quaker roots, but it’s 100% twenty-first century in how it approaches education: learning to become a better world. Many students come from challenging and marginalised backgrounds, to discover equitable learning programmes geared towards work, beautiful grounds and an atmosphere of mutual respect. Staff work hard to “keep the show on the road” financially, whilst at the same time equally valuing outcomes around people and planet. It’s no surprise that their strategic thinking is shaped by Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’.

Fircroft’s ‘new’ values are being implemented slowly, to ensure they are baked into planning and decisions, so that they can saturate the organisation. I’ve been working with staff and governors to generate ‘values-line’ questions to facilitate this. Fircroft is determined to be anti-racist, authentic, brave, collaborative, empowering and supportive, rather than just say they are. Those words are present in everyday discourse, with opportunities for staff and students to discuss what they mean and how they play out.

There’s nothing about Fircroft’s work that’s not possible to scale up, as I know from my work with bigger colleges who are also values-first. It may take time and it ought to take time for the work to have real impact. Being genuinely values-driven isn’t a quick fix, it’s sustainable change. You may not have Fircroft’s beautiful gardens – or its bees! – but it’s possible to make lasting transformation – people, planet and prosperity first – out of good intentions. So don’t give up.

Beehives at Fircroft College
Fircroft College on a summer day

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