An interview with Alison Maynard: "Tyne Coast College is our workforce for the future"
In 2017, Tyne Coast College was borne out of a merger between South Tyneside College and Tyne Metropolitan College, tapping into the necessary skills students from all backgrounds require to flourish.
I got the chance to meet with Tyne Coast College’s deputy chief executive, Alison Maynard, who painted an incredibly insightful picture on what exactly this college does.
I’m cheerfully greeted by Alison, a blonde short-haired woman sporting a pick-and-mix floral midi dress by Oliver Bonas. It’s a great find, and a smart item to wear on this Tuesday afternoon in late February, with the freakishly warm sun pouring into Wallsend’s Tyne Metropolitan College.
The deputy chief executive role naturally comes with a huge level of responsibility, but Alison’s life seemingly couldn’t be more in check.
Alison, 50, was promoted to this role in 2018. She is one of five members on the senior leadership team across the different campuses, which includes chief executive Dr Lindsey Whiterod CBE.
It’s useful to know that this college isn’t restricted to just one area. There are an additional three sites (South Tyneside College; South Shields Marine School; and Queen Alexandra Sixth Form) dotted across the region, offering various educational pathways for young people.
It suits Alison’s lifestyle immensely. When we meet up, her energy is infectious - and it’s not just because she spent some time in Barbados with her husband, Jonathan, a week beforehand. It’s because she runs 30 to 40 miles per week, is a former aerobics coach and trains for marathons.
It sounds incredibly intense - how she fits this inbetween full-time work and walking her two dogs, Fyne and Sye, seems crazy - but it’s all down to organising her time effectively.
Alison recalls: “I’m a very structured, organised person - I tend to rub off on other people! This role is so busy that I need time for myself, but when I’ve been out for a run, people get the emails - because I’ve been thinking of new ideas and plans.”
Despite her stressing that downtime is key, Tyne Coast College is a huge part of her life and something she’s incredibly passionate about.
Alison was born in Sunderland and has never left the region for work, so she really understands the vitality to constantly improve North East education. Following her three-year-long studies of nursing, she specialised in regional paediatrics and orthopaedics for six years before an educational job advertisement changed her career path indefinitely.
She’s never looked back since: “I was [at] Sunderland College from 1995 until I came to South Tyneside. I worked with the Polish government [in that role] eight years ago to give advice on their vocational education.”
She’s travelled to various places for work; Brazil, China - I would guarantee that if Alison owns one of those ‘Scratch Maps of the World’, at least half of it will be emblazoned in gold.
But let’s go back to the region, and what Tyne Coast College does for young people - and adults, too, who want to switch up their career path or brush up on forgotten skills.
Primarily, the college offers around 1,200 apprenticeships - from intermediate to advanced. Unsurprisingly, Alison says its biggest accolade is engineering, particularly with the marine school.
“The biggest proportion [of subjects] is STEM, from general engineering through to marine. If you went on a cruise liner around the world, you would more than likely have a captain who has trained in South Shields!”
And it’s not just science, technology and mechanical subjects that are being taught here. We tend to oversee a lot of career opportunities in everyday hobbies - many students have gone on to do hair and beauty on these ships: “The ship workers come in and interview our learners. I’m a great believer in partnerships, too; we have one with Lee Stafford.
“All of our students are trained the Lee Stafford way, the students adapt his practices so it’s very work-ready. We have customers who come to the college every day, and Lee comes up [to the region] and does masterclasses.
“We’ve worked with a lot of companies including Siemens and Port of Tyne. I’m a great believer of work-ready skills so it’s not just about coming to college. It’s about skills and attendance.”
South Tyneside’s biggest cohort may lie in the 16 to 18 bracket, but the college also offers education for those 14 and upwards: “We can recruit directly from schools. We were the first in the country to launch advanced engineering and manufacturing for 14-year-olds.
“We’re in partnership with St. Wilfred’s School, South Tyneside. They do their GCSEs and we do the vocational two-year course, it’s very demanding but they also do a lot of work experience.”
It’s not just about regional students, either. The college takes on international learners, and Alison makes a strong case of how important diversity is in an educational environment - plus, international students are apparently incredibly enthusiastic about typical British culture: “They love afternoon tea and scones… The amount of scones we must make!”
And when these young people are away from home, it is crucial they’re being safeguarded. Mental health is a huge issue amongst students, and the college is tackling it, says Alison.
She notes that resilience training is key, and getting them to face up to the fact that failure is most certainly not a bad thing is so important: “It will actually make you more successful,” she smiles.
Over at South Tyneside College, too, a grant has been awarded for the staff to invest in mental health. In general, the college (across all of its campuses) has been awarded for its commitment to providing integral education and support: “We have amazing achievement and success rates - hence why we were FE College of the Year.
“It’s been a great six years of my life. The things I’ve learnt and developed while I’ve been here are phenomenal. With Dr Lindsey, myself and the management team, I really feel we’ve brought South Tyneside into a new era.”
For Alison, it’s the progression and positive change in students that motivates her more than anything: “The students have gone from being disengaged at school to embracing vocational education, and 72 per cent of those have remained doing further education after their course.
“For me, that is really putting something out to the community and seeing these young people flourish. I believe everyone has skills, you’ve just got to tap into them. We’ve got to find the niches in these young people.
“We’re very keen on designing a curriculum that doesn’t suit my needs but the industry’s. I just love vocational education.”
In terms of future progression, it is evident Alison wants to continually evolve with her role. She will continue working for the college, sitting on the Advanced Manufacturing Board and the North East Chamber of Commerce: “It’s getting out there, testing… Making sure you will take risks to get further ahead.
“Plus, I want to run a marathon! I live and breathe my work, I always challenge myself to do better,” but Alison says her main aim is making sure the college continues to provide vital education for all: “We’re developing young people who are going out into the world, we can’t let standards slip.
“We’re open to everybody, we will find a course for them. I’m so passionate about the college… It’s our workforce for the future.”
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