Sunderland college building

@sunderlandcol has revealed its innovation driven success over the past year has strengthened its reputation nationally and has further supported the further education college to transform lives and provide an outstanding experience to students, ensuring they progress and achieve their life and career ambitions.  

The college is led by an inspiring leadership team, headed by CEO Ellen Thinnesen, with a clear and ambitious vision for excellence. In November 2018, following its merger with Northumberland College, a three-year transformation process was launched to shape and embed culture and values, clarity of vision, and strategy within the organisation.   

The college’s strategic vision, ‘excellence at the heart of everything’ is supported by four professional values and behaviours, which underpin all the college’s activities, alongside five strategic goals. This has created a culture of high ambitions and high expectations, which has had a positive impact on its students.   

Interim Deputy Principal for Curriculum for Sunderland College, Judith Quinn, explains:  

“High expectations in teaching, learning and assessment, combined with staff who strive for continual improvement ensure students follow appropriate programmes of study to support their development, achievement and ambitions.”  

Achievement and retention rates at the college have been positively impacted with the college recording a 91% achievement rate in 2018/19 - an increase from 85% in 2016/17 - and a high retention rate of 95.2% in 2018/19, compared to 93.5% in 2016/17.   

Judith continues:  

“As part of our vision and culture, robust curriculum plans and models have been developed with clear purpose and intent. They are not only related to our students developing and applying their knowledge and skills, but linked to attitudes, behaviours, employability skills and progression pathways.  

“In addition, our teaching staff are not merely qualified in the art of teaching, they are committed to updating their own specialist knowledge with many still working in industry. Alongside our excellent industry-standard facilities and professional working environments, our study programmes can mirror the exceptional quality standards and the attitudes and behaviours found in industry, which further supports the college’s career-focused curriculum.”  

Last summer, Sunderland College was recognised as the top college nationally by Pearson, the UK’s largest awarding body, and awarded the prestigious BTEC College of the Year 2019 title. This year, the college’s music teaching team were honoured with a Pearson Silver Teaching Award for FE Team of the Year.   

A career-focused curriculum also aids positive progression.  98% of students at Sunderland College progress to a positive destination such as further study or employment, which is an increase from 94.7% the previous year.   

Construction graduate, Hannah Hayman, started at Sunderland College as a school leaver and young single parent. She progressed from BTEC Level 1 Brickwork through to HNC Construction and the Built Environment. She said:  

“Being a single parent at 15-years-old and attending college to study brickwork, I had to overcome many challenges, however having amazing teachers and mentors at Sunderland College to guide and support me, gave me the motivation to improve my life prospects and pursue a job in the construction industry.  

“My greatest achievement was completing my HNC in Construction and the Built Environment. I was the only student on my course that was self-funded. I also had to study my HNC whilst acquiring and renovating my own home. I was proud to graduate in front of my family knowing I achieved the goals many thought I never would.”   

The college provides excellent careers education information to its students and it is Matrix accredited, which recognises the high standard of information and guidance delivery. The college was selected for the North East pilot for the prestigious Gatsby Good Careers Benchmarks, fully meets seven out of the eight Good Careers Benchmarks, and for the last two years has been highly commended for the Association of College’s Beacon Award for its work in careers education.  

Timely careers advice and guidance has led to a 4.7% increase in the number of students applying to university by the UCAS deadline and a 13% increase in the number of students successfully placed at Russell Group universities, compared to 2017 entry.  

The college has also been involved in the Ford Next Generation Learning programme in partnership with North East LEP and The Edge Foundation. This pioneering project benefits young people, communities and local economies by addressing skills shortages and youth unemployment through embedding community connected and project-based learning in study programmes. Students can see the relevance of their teaching, how to apply their knowledge in the real world and are able to make informed decisions about their progression.  

At Sunderland College, students access high quality, work experience, which is aligned to their career aspirations. The college’s expert in-house recruitment team has supported year-on-year increases in students successfully completing work experience. In 2018/19 there were 1,765 16 to 18 year old students who completed work experience, of which 39 were students with SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability) - representing 92% of students that are work ready.   

Further building on the college’s success in providing students with high quality work experience, Sunderland College was the only college in the North East to be selected for the Department for Education T-Level industry placement pilot, which helped to shape national policy. As part of the pilot, the college successfully delivered 176 extended placements in partnership with employers operating within industry sectors such as automotive, business, computing, construction, hair and beauty, health, professional cookery and hospitality and sport.  

The college has been involved in innovative projects to support national planning and transform education for vulnerable students. This has included being a pilot college for NNECL (National Network for the Education of Care Leavers) to develop a Quality Framework for Care Experienced Students and piloting Driving Change Quality Framework for Young Adult Carers.   

Ruth Magnus, Director of Student Services at Sunderland College, said: 

"As a college, we have introduced measures to support our more vulnerable students with a new Intensive Support Team and an increase in counselling provision. This has resulted in high impact and accessible student support interventions for those most at risk, to be able to remain at college and achieve their qualifications.”   

The college currently has a 91.3% retention of students who are classed as Looked after Children, which is an 11.3% improvement compared to 2017/18. Students classed as Care Leavers have improved from 87.5% in 2017/18 to currently 94.9%. In addition, students classed as Young Carers, currently have a retention rate of 94.3%, representing an improvement of 3.5% compared to 2017/18.  

In this year’s annual parent survey for the college, 97% of parents and carers of students at the college agreed that their child is safe and well supported in college (+1% compared to 2017/18 and +6% above benchmark). 

A new Student Engagement Team and a team of Sport Activators have both been introduced this academic year, which has increased enrichment provision for students. This has provided students with more opportunities to gain skills beyond the classroom, to enhance their career and personal development.  

300 students took part in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards this year, which is an increase from 143 in 2018/19. Students engage in a range of social action projects to achieve their Bronze, Silver or Gold Award and gain additional skills and qualities that are valued by employers and universities. Students have also volunteered to support a range of community events such as the Great British Spring Clean, and projects with Grace House, Young Asian Voices and Dementia Friends. In addition, the college’s LGBT+ group supports Sunderland Pride and hosts the city-wide group, LGBT Partnership Equality Forum.  

The Student President is a new role that was introduced in September 2019. Students vote for a president every year to represent and seek the views of students and be a leadership figure for the student community. This new role has ensured effective student voice mechanisms for students to provide feedback about their experience and positively contribute to college life and the local community.  

19-year-old Zainab Zadeem, the 2019/20 Student President for Sunderland College, Hartlepool Sixth Form and Northumberland College, previously studied BTEC Level 3 Photography at Sunderland College. She said she applied to become the new Student President as she wanted to gain leadership experience and make a positive difference for students. She explains:  

“Coming to Sunderland College brought me out of my shell. I clicked with the culture of the college straight away and found I could really be myself.   

“The lecturers at Sunderland College are incredible and always do their best to help you in any way. I had lots of opportunities to work on events and employer briefs both inside and outside of college to build my portfolio, and I also completed a work placement to prepare me for my future career.  

“Sunderland College has been the best thing has happened to me and is responsible for me being in the best place that I am today.” 

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