Stuart Barlow took up the role of Interim Principal at Coulsdon College in September. We caught up with him to find out what brings him to Coulsdon and what his plans are for the future of the college.
What brings you to Coulsdon Sixth Form College?
I am here for an initial term of 4-6 months to support the college in providing the best possible education for our students, whilst we finalise recruitment of a new permanent Principal. I am fortunate to have worked across many different colleges and hope to bring that knowledge and expertise to supporting the growth of Coulsdon.
What are the main challenges you face?
Our students and our staff, like the whole world, have had to cope with an extraordinarily difficult period of time. We are all still working hard to understand how we need to do things differently so that students can be supported to maximise their potential.
Doing this against a challenging financial backdrop for the sector, with rising costs not being matched by the levels of governmental funding also requires staff to be ingenious in developing new ways of supporting learning, and to be ever more vigilant in identifying and supporting the needs of students.
How do you see the college’s position in 2, 5 or 10 years’ time?
The next 2 years will be a period of consolidation for Coulsdon, embedding the great stuff that already happens and building a team which is explicitly focused on making sure that every individual student gets the best possible teaching, and the best possible support, on their journey to being the best version of themselves. We are looking at how we also engage more with our local community, and how we can develop activities and courses that continue to inspire students.
Over the longer-term I want Coulsdon College to fulfil the potential that it has to grow and flourish. I have been fortunate to inherit a committed team of staff and the challenge is to guide them to fulfil the college’s undoubted potential. Doing this will bring a greater diversity of courses, more students and more success.
What are you most looking forward to for the 2022/3 academic year?
I am lucky to be doing a job that I love. In my first few weeks the opportunity to meet with, and chat to students on a daily basis is something that reminds me how much I enjoy being in education – above all I am looking forward to continuing to do that.
Have you always wanted to be a college Principal?
Becoming a principal isn’t something that I had ever particularly aspired to – in fact, often the more you rise up in the sector, the more challenging it can be to keep hold of the things that you love about education. For me, that’s working with students and staff. I am fortunate that Coulsdon, in part because of the links to and support from Croydon College, provides the opportunity to continue to do those things.
What are the three most important qualities you bring to the job?
I start from a point of believing that everybody, every day, gets up wanting to be the best version of themselves. If they are not showing this, we have a responsibility to identify what is going on for them and support them to overcome those challenges.
Listening – everyone in our community has something to tell us, and something to teach us.
Curiosity – I have a habit of asking ‘why?’ until I understand what is causing a particular thing to happen. If we’re persistently curious, so we can really get to the small changes that can have a large impact.
What can the local community expect from Coulsdon College in the immediate future?
Greater contact! I want to get out and meet local community leaders, groups and local residents so that we can understand how we can work better together. We have a lot of young people locally who are yet to make Coulsdon their first choice for study and I want to understand why, and how we can change so that they do.
I also want to find ways for our students to enhance the local community – students can get ‘a bad press’ as they are growing up, adapting to the challenges of the transition to independent young adulthood and together we can find ways of supporting them whilst they do that, understanding that sometimes they will not always make the best choices during this time. Our role is to educate and support – our community has a pivotal role in helping us, and we can help them at the same time.
What have been your initial impressions of the College?
Coulsdon College is a warm, friendly place full of people who absolutely want to be the best versions of themselves. I am enjoying being part of it.
What advice would you give to prospective or new students?
Too often we get pre-occupied with the final destination – it is great to have dreams and aspirations but they can feel overwhelming if we cannot see the steps that will take us towards that goal. So dream big, but focus on the next day. Make the decision that, every day, you are going to try to be the best version of yourself regardless of what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. You’ll never know what you have the power to achieve unless you give it your best.