2010 a momentous year for new college principal

Paul Sherrington talks to the Herald's Alison Noble about growing up, moving to the North-east and the exciting future for Banff and Buchan College

Thursday, 27th May 2010, 10:25 am
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2010, 10:28 am

2010 is turning into a momentous year for Paul Sherrington.

Seven weeks ago he was appointed the new principal of Banff and Buchan College of Further Education at the start of an exciting 30million resculpturing and redevelopment of the main Fraserburgh campus.

And if that wasn't enough, earlier this month, he become the proud granda to his first grandchild, Kayleigh.

Education has always played an important part in Paul's life. The son of two teachers, he was born into the mining communities of East Durham, growing up in Horden and later the neighbouring new town of Peterlee. Many of his family were coal miners, at a time when the mining industry was the largest employer of men in the County.

Paul and his brother Ian grew up and went to the local primary school and later to the local grammar school. It was while at the local grammar that he met his childhood sweetheart and future wife Janice, who lived in Horden.

On leaving school, Paul went on to complete a Degree in Molecular Biology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. From there he went to work at a genetic research facility in the city, but after just six months, he decided that he didn't really want to do that kind of work and embarked on a career in teaching.

Paul then married Janice, who was at university in Sheffield. The couple moved back to the North-east to the town of Peterlee.

Between 1980 and 1984 he taught in schools in Durham. It was during those turbulent years of the early 1980s when the pits were being closed and the year long miners strike took place.

Paul knows only too well the value of his education in enabling him to work in an industry other than mining. As in other parts of Britain at that time, mining was in the blood, with many sons following in the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers by leaving school and going down the pit.

And he vividly recalls seeing many of his former schoolmates who had done just that, have their families torn apart by the year-long strike and later with the closure of so many collieries and the devastation that this had on local communities, after all these were trained craftsmen.

Paul explained: "Peterlee had one of the highest instances, if not the highest instance, of youth unemployment in the UK at that time. Many people who lost their jobs in the mines never worked again. It was a terrible waste. I grew up in Horden at a time when the pit employed 3,000 people."

Mining was the biggest employers in the mid-1980s in that area.

"Fortunately the area is now regenerating itself and there is a lot of inward migration, but at that time there was a lot of men out of work and a lot of the jobs that were created, were part-time jobs, which were taken by the women.

"Dad was a teacher and mam was a teacher, and I was fortunate to go to a good local school. The importance of education has been fundamental to me all my life.

"I was able to get out of the treadmill, something only really possible through education or sport. I am massively indebted to the education I received. It gives you real opportunities. Looking back now many guys I knew didn't have the support of their families like we did."

Between 1980 and 1995 Paul worked in various local schools and then went to work in the local college in Peterlee in 1985.

There had always been a college in Peterlee, it was a traditional technical college which trained mining apprentices. During Paul's time there it had to change. Staff went into the many surrounding towns and villages offering courses and training in their own communities, giving them a belief and hope that they did have a future beyond the coal face.

He started out lecturing in science, then becoming head of maths, science and engineering and by the end of his time he was the Depute Principal on an acting basis.

In 1995, Paul and Janice and their three children decided that they wanted to make a change: "It was partly to do with the area. We had three children by then. The eldest would have been 15, then 13 and nine. We felt ready for a move, we wanted to have an adventure as a family.

"We wanted to go somewhere more rural. We had been coming up to Scotland for many years to visit my brother Ian who works at Glenmore Lodge in Aviemore. We loved it.

"Around that time I saw a job for a Head of Department in General Studies at Banff and Buchan College. What really impressed me when I came up here was the commitment of the staff and the students, there was a real work ethic. It was a well-maintained college, it was clean and tidy.

"The students were purposeful and serious about investing in their future, which was in stark contract to many of those who came to Peterlee College, who saw it as a stop gap because there was nothing else to do. Here it was about doing something worthwhile. The focus here was all about the students and learning and I was impressed by the professional attitude of the staff.

"We settled here very quickly. Very quickly it was obvious that it was the right move," he said.

Initially the family moved into the old manse at New Aberdour, then to Banff and now, because of easier access to the airport to to back to Peterlee to visit family, they have chosen to settle in Kingseat near Aberdeen.

His one regret about moving here, is that his children don't see as much of their grandparents as they used to.

Nine years ago, Paul became Depute Principal and has spent the last couple of years working closely towards the redevelopment of the college.

"It's a fantastic time for the college. There will be a total refurbishment of the main campus; it will be unrecognisable.

"After work is complete it will provide much better facilities for students. At the moment there aren't many social spaces for the students and the layout isn't very welcoming with it's rabbit warren of corridors.

"We need more places for students to sit around together between classes. Many of our students travel for three hours a day by bus to come here. People now expect more than just a classroom."

But he recognises that during the 18 months that the work will take place, that this will mean the dispersal of many students to other centres in the likes of Ellon, Peterhead and Macduff etc.

"Here the staff and students will be moving in and out of temporary accommodation. Right at the heart of everything during the planning phase, was a need to ensure, that despite everything, this was still a reasonable experience for the students - after all this might be their only experience of student life. But there was also a recognition that we needed to do this," he added.

Paul is delighted by the support of the funding council who are putting up 21m of the 30m required for the project.

"I think that the whole college, the students and the staff, have been energised by the development plans. It has given us something to look forward to.

"But I also recognise that there are major challenges ahead ,with a squeeze on public finances and the need to respond to the undoubted real term cuts in funding in education, at a time when the demand for college places is higher than ever.

"We must change the way we work in the future and offer a more flexible approach to learning. We recognise that good teachers are the most important part of delivering good education, but equally there needs to be more emphasis on students doing more of the work on their own."

And Paul recognises the importance of the curriculum for excellence in building closer relationships with schools and developing more courses in line with that ethos.

"This college is hugely important, not only for Fraserburgh, but for the whole area. What we do here makes a big difference to people's lives, not only for the thousands of students who come here every year, but also as an employer for the area.

"I am delighted for Fraserburgh that this major refurbishment of the college is taking place, it's something which will really revitalise the community," he admitted.

Over Paul's 15 years here, the college has grown dramatically and just a couple of years ago had around 19,000 students enrolled in one way or another in from one-off classes to part-time and full-time courses offered throughout the area. In recent years there has also been an influx of foreign students, who have moved into the area, something which Paul sees as hugely positive for everyone involved.

"We see ourselves as a community college and this is something which I want to see develop and build on in the future."

Away from work, Paul is a keen sports fan with real passions for both football and cricket. He also enjoys walking his dog and he has recently upgraded his bike to get out and about more in the countryside with his family.