The Director General for Higher Education and Further Education visited City Campus to discover more about the outstanding learning opportunities Sunderland College is creating for young people and adults across the region.

Paul Kett, who is leading figure in the Department for Education’s (DfE) leadership team, was welcomed by Chief Executive Ellen Thinnesen and Chair of Governors Rob Lawson who spoke about how a future ready vision and strategic plan has positioned the group as an engaged and influential sector leader with a strong reputation and growing partnerships.

Mr Kett also heard how Education Partnership North East, which includes Hartlepool Sixth Form, Northumberland College and Sunderland College, supports its most vulnerable and disadvantaged, as well as developing students through community connected, real-world and project-based initiatives, such as WorldSkills UK and the Ford Next Generation Learning programme.

Vice Principal of Apprenticeships and Commercial Iain Nixon detailed how the group is engaged in collaboration and long-term partnership building with leading employers, as well as SME’s, to provide a sustainable industry-focussed curriculum, co-designed and co-delivered to best meet the needs of the economy.

Rounding off the series of presentations, Mr Kett learned how Education Partnership North East is strategically shaping new ways of working through collaborative systems leadership, coalition building and unique models of colocation. This included sharing advanced plans about how the college, Job Centre, Sunderland City Council and other organisations are progressing advanced plans to tackle unemployment and skills.

Mr Kett and senior leaders also discussed the journey of successfully transforming a college from the point of merger, the progress made with Kickstart, the challenges in being able to deliver short industry relevant courses or higher technical solutions for employers, but also the opportunities available and their vital role in the UK’s recovery and growth following the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the visit, Mr Kett took time to meet with staff and students during a tour of Sunderland College’s £30 million technical campus which includes state-of-the-art employer-designed facilities in several skills’ priority areas such as construction, mechanical and electrical engineering, manufacturing and automotive.

Ellen Thinnesen said: “We were delighted to host this important Department for Education visit, which was a valuable opportunity to explain Sunderland’s socio-economic context alongside our purpose and commitment to social mobility, thriving communities and economic prosperity.

“We shared the college’s impressive impact upon NEET reduction and improved outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged students. It was also an opportunity to share advanced designs of a new and unique multi-provider Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy, currently pending funding approval as part of Sunderland City Council’s levelling up bid to Government.”

Paul Kett added: “It was a delight to visit Sunderland College and I particularly enjoyed talking to the students and staff. It was very encouraging to hear about how Sunderland College are truly embracing the ambitions we share to ensure skills provision supports people secure, and progress in, great jobs.

“I was impressed by the work the College did to engage and work in partnership with local employers to provide an engaging curriculum offer which meets important skills gaps.”

To ensure Sunderland College’s City Campus can continue to play a leading role in the region’s rapidly evolving technological advancements, Education Partnership North East has secured £1.3 million from the DfE’s T Level Capital Fund to drive further enhancements within clean manufacturing.

The funding will see the creation of several exciting new additions to the college’s inspiring training resources including a Hybrid Automotive facility, an Automation Innovation training suite, the inclusion of a new Digital Engineering Hub and a Business Management zone.

Earlier this year, Sunderland College was awarded over £3.2 million to completely refurbish a 1950s building at its Bede Campus to create a new Digital Innovation and Skills Hub including a sophisticated, 360-degree immersive visualisation dome that will train students in world-class virtual reality environments.

The developments will also include an amphitheatre-style seated area, innovation suites and flexible spaces for students studying T Levels such as Digital and Health.

As well as being an innovative centre for T Level training, the college will open a small sensory environment within the centre where students will gain real work experience supporting the delivery of digitally informed immersive therapies for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19