Corrienne's Paston College opening speech
We hold our graduation ceremonies each year in Norwich Cathedral and in such a historic setting I reflected in my speech this year about the ways in which tradition and change sit side by side.
When talking about the merger, I said that the bringing together of two such old and esteemed institutions understandably brings concerns for those who cherish tradition, reputation and local standing.
And I outlined that the key challenge for us is to preserve and build on the best of our traditions, whilst making a reality of an exciting and much-needed change bringing an expansion of learning opportunities in this area of our county.
Our graduation speaker in 2010, was Stephen Fry, who is of course an alumnus of both Paston College and City College Norwich. Stephen once wrote that:
To be human and to be adult means constantly to be in the grip of opposing emotions, to have daily to reconcile apparently conflicting tensions. I want this, but need that. I cherish this, but I adore its opposite too.
These words certainly resonate when I step back and reflect on the journey we have all been on as we went through an area review process, public consultation, and on to preparing for the merger or our two colleges.
In bringing together two long-established institutions, both much valued in their local communities, and each with their own distinct identities, heritage and strengths, there is inevitably going to be contrasting emotions and views about whether and how to go about this.
That was very evident, as all parties grappled with “opposing emotions” and “apparently conflicting tensions”. The high level of public, staff and student engagement with the merger consultation, including well publicised comments both positive and negative, underscored just how important and highly regarded Paston College is for students, staff, alumni, employers and the community as a whole.
However, as the Area Review made clear, the sixth form college was no longer financially sustainable in its existing form; something had to give, yet there was an understandable desire – expressed through the public consultation - to preserve the heritage, identity and reputation of Paston.
Paston’s current reputation for excellence in its sixth form provision, and its rich traditions dating back more than 400 years, are huge assets on which to build continued future success.
From the outset, we recognised the significance of the heritage, identity and reputation of Paston, and our commitment to retaining the Paston name is just one reflection of this.
The infrastructure and facilities of The Lawns site and The Griffon site are integral to the future development of Paston College; these will be consolidated and enhanced as we expand our educational offer for the community of North East Norfolk.
The central rationale for bringing our two colleges together was to enhance the choice and breadth of A Levels, vocational courses and other Further Education programmes in North East Norfolk, so understandably respondents to the consultation also wanted to know more about the impact on the future of academic and vocational provision.
We were happy to lay to rest some early concerns about the impact on students, specifically that we would be asking large numbers of students to make the 30-mile round trip between the two campuses. This won’t be happening! We have excellent A Level provision at both sites and will keep the A Level offer as broad as possible across the two campuses.
And we will soon be expanding the offer at Paston, including new Level 2 courses for those who just missed out on the entry requirements for their A Level or other level 3 programmes, and new Access to Higher Education courses for adults.
Another theme from the consultation were questions related to the leadership and management at Paston and the impact of the merger on staff.
With both colleges rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted, our teaching staff and managers are coming together sharing a strong basis for further improvement, with students as our central focus, as we work together to move to an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating.
Colleagues from both colleges have been working together extremely well over recent months. This has enabled us to already move a long way towards a smooth integration of curriculum management and student and business support functions, bringing Paston the many benefits of having non-teaching support provided by Norfolk Educational Services through our successful shared services model.
A final key theme from the consultation concerned the impact on the North Walsham economy.
Through this merger we will be creating a financially sustainable college, serving the needs of its local community, geared towards growth as we expand provision at Paston. This will enhance the contribution of Paston College to the local community.
So yes, we have been in the grip of opposing emotions, we have had to daily reconcile apparently conflicting tensions. We have thought, I want this, but need that. I cherish this, but I adore its opposite too. But we leave that behind now. Today is the first day of our new shared history. We keep alive and hold dear some traditions and we change and adapt into the future.
We’ve asked today for your ideas for that new, shared future and we will keep on asking as we shape our college together.
But we wouldn’t have got to this point without the hard work and dedication that lots of people have put in and I would like to take a moment to thank them.
Firstly, Paston Corporation members, brilliantly led by Nicola Lucking as Chair and David Ablett as Vice-Chair, ably supported by Clerk Liam Morton. You have exhibited perseverance and tenacity in the extreme. As volunteers, you have given freely of your time and absolutely demonstrated the highest standards we expect of those in public office.
Thank you also to Paston Foundation. We look forward to working with you even more closely in the coming months and years, although hopefully not quite so intensively as we have in the last couple of weeks with the charity commission, lawyers and land agents.
City College Norwich governors, thank you for your support and challenge to keep up the momentum whilst reconciling the sometimes conflicting tensions and always having the students at the centre of our decision-making.
To all of the other stakeholders who have played their part, North Norfolk MP, Norman Lamb, local, district and county councillors and officers, representatives of the Department for Education and Pastonians. We thank you for your support for Paston Sixth Form College and we look forward to building on that relationship now as Paston College.
Thank you to the staff, students and parents at both colleges. We understand that this has been an unsettling time for you and we will work to build a new ‘business as usual’ together.
Next my thanks to the people who have put in the hard work on all of the different aspects of merger, our workstream leads. I do want to name check you all as you have carried on with the day job whilst meticulously planning merged systems, processes and communications.
Sandra Emerson, Donna Howe and Tom Roberts have worked on the curriculum
Dean Crosbie, Jock Downie, Alex Miller and Helen Richardson-Hulme have focussed on all the wrap around support we give students
Ian Bloomfield and Colin Bird have led on estates and facilities and Ian has also worked on IT Systems with Nik Kershaw and registry with Lisa Guthrie
Clare Burgess has done a great job on PR and communications
Hilary Bright, Julie Cook and Sarah Harris are our HR experts
And last but by no means least, Jodie Mitchell and Liam Morton have skilfully steered us through the not inconsiderable legal and governance matters
But I know that our workstream leads especially will want me to thank the three people who have done such an amazing job of project managing the merger. Christina Sadler for Paston, Laura McLean for City College Norwich and Peter Pazitka for Norfolk Educational Services you are stars. You have encouraged, cajoled, gently persuaded and sometimes pushed us over the line. You are all inspirational leaders and it has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside you.
But I have to leave my final thanks to Kevin Grieve. Kevin, it is easy to start a new job well but it is incredibly difficult sometimes to leave well. You haven’t had that problem though. You’ve had the best interests of the students and staff of Paston Sixth Form College in mind throughout. You have been generous with your time to explain the way things work and your contributions to our future plans have been considered and well thought through.
I was wondering what we could give you to mark this occasion as I sat in the Hoste Room the other day when I realised that the answer was literally staring me in the face. Please come up Kevin and accept this token of our appreciation.
Thank you all for coming. Please do fill in the postcards with your ideas and as it’s the first of December and you’ve been eating mince pies… Have a very Happy Christmas!