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Simon Barrable: Principal at Portsmouth College

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Shaping Director Stef Nienaltowski recently met with Simon Barrable to discuss taking over the role of Principal at Portsmouth college, his initial challenges, and where he sees the College heading.
It's both brilliant and exciting for those students who are at, and will be at the College in the future.

We are looking forward to building a brighter future for our next generations with Simon and his team.

Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon. I'm sat with Simon Barrable, the new Principal of Portsmouth College. Good afternoon Simon.

Simon Barrable: Good afternoon Stef.

SN: Simon, first of all congratulations on your appointment as Principal of this wonderful College.

SB: Thank you.

SN: What do you see as your initial priorities?

SB: I think it's really important that we continue to build on the excellent work that we've been doing. I think we've got a fantastic reputation in the local community for the work we're doing with young people here, but we want to keep moving that forward. I think we need to be striving to provide an ever-better education and service to those young people, and I'm determined that we do do that. We need to secure some funding for a new building, because we're popular, we're fast growing, and we want more young people to be able to come here, and in order to do that, we need some more space. And it's really important to me that we work through a range of community partnerships, to help to solve the wider issues and the wider agenda of the City.

SN: Given the focus on Skills, what will your college be doing to make sure you're preparing the students in the best way for the next steps, be that an apprenticeship, University, or indeed a job?

SB: We need to have high expectations of them. We need to push them to achieve their best, because clearly good qualifications open doors to those destinations that you mentioned there. I'm also a firm believer in us giving our students a range of wider opportunities outside of the classroom. They need to be able to develop the soft skills that businesses are always telling us that young people need to have if they're going to be successful. Be that in HE, apprenticeships, in employment, and fortunately here at Portsmouth College, we're able to offer a very wide range of opportunities like that through our unique E6 programme, and that includes a lot of programmes around employability, it includes a really good work experience programme for them, so I'm a big believer in that.
I think we need to provide some really good IAG, Information Advice and Guidance, for young people through our careers team, through our wider support teams, we need to help and guide our students in the direction they want to go and give them the advice they need that's going to get them there, and the help and support with that. It's a minefield really, when it comes to applying to apprenticeships, to University applications, what have you, they need really good advice and guidance around all of that.

SN: And I know that we've covered in previous conversations, but we've got obviously the schools that feed into your College, and the Universities that many people go on to afterwards. How do you actually work to co-ordinate that communication if you like, between schools coming in to you, and then them going on to Universities?

SB: We work very very closely with our secondary school partners, and I do call them partners because they are over 93% of our students come from the 10 secondary schools on or just off of Portsea Island, and it's so important that we give them a good transition from secondary to college, and the only way to do that is to work closely with our colleagues in those secondary schools. So, we make sure that students have the chance to come to taster days when they're in year 10, we go in and do assemblies for them, they come to our open evenings, we then go through a kind of interview process, they apply, they all get one-to-one interview, they come to another what we call 'Introduction Day' at the end of year 11, and then we have a very comprehensive enrolment programme as well, and again there's lots of information, advice, and guidance there to make sure they're on the right programme. And I as Principal here work very closely with the Head Teachers in the secondary schools; we have a Head Teachers Forum. We meet once every half term, so I feel very involved and very engaged with that.
We also work closely with a range of Universities, both local and further afield actually, and we're just about, at the end of September, to run our first ever Higher Education and Higher Apprenticeships Fair here at the College. So, we'll have 40+ Universities here, we'll have a whole series of Higher Apprenticeship providers in the building, every single one of our students will be given time off of timetable to make sure they have exposure to that, and we've also invited the secondary schools in as well, so that younger pupils can get access to that information direct from those providers. And in terms of collaboration between the Colleges, we are careful to signpost young people to other institutions where we feel that institution has got a more appropriate programme for that young person. We've all got their best interests at heart there. Portsmouth is a very collaborative City actually, there is a lot of very genuine partnership working that goes on, and I want us to remain at the heart of that for sure.

SN: Indeed. Am I right in saying one of the unique things you do here, your start and finish times are slightly different from the norm, if I can say that. Do you start later here in the morning?

SB: We do yeah, yeah, that's part of a series of innovations we've undertaken these past few years, so one of them is the timetable, it's a 9.55am start, and a 4pm finish. A lot of research has been done which actually proves what we all thought we knew, which is that teenagers wake up a little bit later in the morning than people of my age, and they can keep going until later in the evening, whereas I've had it by about 10 o'clock at night, and there is some scientific evidence to back that up. So, we start them later on, I think it's more productive if they're in lessons by 10am in my view. It's also much easier for them to get here, it takes a lot of traffic out of our rush hour, and our timetable just has two lessons a day, so there's no trapped time for students at all. We don't drag them in at half past 8 and then they've got one lesson and nothing until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, it's very disrespectful of young people I feel. So, they're either in a lesson or they're not in a lesson, and that gives them whole blocks of time where they can either be doing private study, or they can be doing E6 opportunities I've mentioned, or they might be in paid employment, so it's a timetable that works really well for young people. And of course, we've also got the E6 programme which is innovative, and we've got the use of iPads here, which is a big innovation. So, we're all out, our staff and students are using iPads to bring teaching and learning into the 21st Century.

SN: Which is what they're used to using outside of school anyway, so it's as you say quite innovative.

SB: Yes.

SN: Indeed. So, we've talked earlier, we touched on earlier, new building, growing numbers, and I know obviously you're keen to carry on and increase the numbers here. What do you see as the longer-term objectives or the longer-term issues you might face as a College?

SB: That issue of growth is a kind of medium to longer term issue for us. We've gone through quite a long period of quite low numbers of 16-year olds of late, and we've worked very hard actually to continue growing despite the fact there's been smaller numbers of 16-year olds out there, and indeed we have grown every year for the past six or seven years now. It's not really until 2020, 2021, that growth starts to come through, and that's going to continue right through to 2024, 2025 so it's certainly a medium-term issue for us, and therefore the biggest challenge for me at the moment is to secure that increase in accommodation. We've started working with a property consultant, an architect’s firms, we're beginning to do the work around the surveys, the planning, the drawings that we need for that new building.
And that's all going to lead up to us putting in a bid for funding for that, just before Christmas. Securing that funding is going to be the big challenge, so it's a very small pot of money, and it's got thousands and thousands of people trying to get hold of it, so I'm already thinking creatively about other ways that we might secure some funding for that building. Other challenges, the other main challenge probably medium-long term is funding rates, we really need an increase on the basic funding rate per learner. That's not increased now for the last eight years, and yet over that same eight-year period the cost base for Colleges has gone up 21%, so if it wasn't for the fact that we've grown at the rate we have have grown, and been as popular as we have been, that would have been a real difficulty for us. There's a lot of lobbying of central government going on to say you really need to take another look at the funding of 16- to 18- education. 

SN: Yes indeed, and now they legally have to be in to 18 as well. And I know, because again I'm lucky enough to work with your organisation, you got a very motivated set of Governors. What is their role in supporting the challenges that you've covered?

SB: The first thing I'd say is I think they bring a real wealth of expertise our Governors, both from within and outside the world of Education. So, that set of perspectives and that wealth of knowledge they bring is invaluable in trying to tackle these kinds of challenges. I would also say that they work extremely hard to both support and challenge the senior team, and that mix of support and challenge is really important to me and the rest of the senior leadership team to make sure that the quality of what we're doing remains high, and that's a crucial role for them. They are great supporters for a huge array of events that we put on here, they come along, they get involved, they promote them, they talk about us in the wider community which is fantastic for us, and finally they of course have a number of statutory duties to fulfil, make sure we're always adhering to the areas of law that we have to, be that equality & diversity, health & safety, safeguarding, and of course that we're meeting our financial obligations as well. So, a really important group of people, and a fantastic group of people. And a number of new people that have joined end of last year, start of this academic year, which I'm really excited to be working with.

SN: Indeed. Simon, thank you very much indeed. Good luck in the new job, if I can call it that, thank you for your time today, and I do look forward to continuing our partnership in the future.

SB: Absolutely, so do I, and thank you ever so much.

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