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You asked... Anne Answered

College Principal Anne Isherwood responds to student questions.

College Principal Anne Isherwood recently visited all College campuses giving you the opportunity to ask her any questions you might have.  Anne received quite a few questions, and all student have received their replies individually.  Next time Anne visits your campus, if you have something you’d like to know, just go along and ‘Ask Anne’

1  Why did you choose to be a principal here?

I chose to be a Principal at Sunderland College as I was ready for a new challenge – Sunderland is much bigger than my previous College.  I was also impressed by both the staff and students that I met during my interview.  There is a true sense of quality here, and this really does reflect in everything the College does.


2  Could you improve the dinners?

We will be reviewing our catering facilities and the managers and staff will be seeking ways of continuing to improve what is on offer.  It is however worth noting that when I spoke to some students they were very complimentary about the food on offer – particularly the puddings!

3  Are you going to change functional skills to GCSE Maths?

Recently government policy decisions mean that where a young person does not achieve a grade A*-C in English and Maths at GCSE they will be required to continue with these subjects beyond the age of 16.  We therefore do not have an option but to change from functional skills to GCSE.   The government have however agreed to look again at an alternative qualification and if an alternative is agreed we will look to offer it.  It is important to note that the reason for the government taking this position is because employers are critical of the literacy and numeracy levels of young people when they go into employment and we are committed to ensuring that our students are ready to progress, whether that is into further education, training or employment.

4  I think we can change the recipe of food in the canteen, because it is the same every day and the price is a little high for students.

The refectories have been running a food court style service since September 2011, following the feedback from students in the refectories questionnaires that were carried out in February 2011.  Unfortunately, with this style of service there is an element of repetition, as we have catered to the most popular requests that students have identified.  Since implementing this style of service, the last two years of student feedback from the FE On Programme Survey Report has shown improved percentages in student satisfaction, 13% over the two years on choice and 19% on value for money.  We acknowledge that the menu is repetitive and since January 2013 we have increased the number of ‘dinner options’ to three in a bid to improve variety but without moving away from the core requests from our customers.

On the issue of cost, we try to operate a break even budget, yet keeping the cost of food sold to an absolute minimum.  Over the last two years this model has been increasingly difficult to maintain, with continued and relentless price increases from suppliers, however we are committed to offering 5 meal deals per day at £2.50.  The deal includes a main meal, branded can of drink or bottled water and a biscuit/fruit (depending upon the deal).  We feel this offers great value for money in comparison to other colleges (Newcastle, Durham and South Tyneside) for whom we keep termly checks on what they are charging students.  The cheapest meal deal excluding a drink is by South Tyneside College at £3.15.  By ensuring we offer a £2.50 deal we supplement 70p towards our own costs.  This focus on low prices extends to confectionery, again we ensure that we are cheaper than the other colleges and we sell at less than recommended retail price.  We do appreciate that our customers have a limited budget and to cater to this we offer a whole range of confectionery products starting from 5p – £1.20.  We will however look at our pricing and ensure we continue to offer extremely competitive prices.

6  Hire more staff in the sports college because the timetables are not good.

With regard to the last question there isn’t a great deal that we can do when classes are timetabled across a Wednesday afternoon.  This will get worse next year from a sports perspective if we go to a five block matrix.  Wednesday afternoon is the time when most Colleges are free to play competitive matches and fixtures etc.  We keep our sports students off timetable so they are the ones who benefit from this.  We are obviously very conscious that not everyone wants to play competitive sport however and are increasingly looking to put on activities at other times throughout the week for students e.g. lunchtimes and after 4.00pm on other days.  We already do this for Netball and some outdoor activities.  We also open the fitness suite for students at various times throughout the week.  The Moodle enrichment site is very good and provides a list of all the activities and sports that are available.

7  Why is the roof terrace at Washington Campus never open?

When Washington was built the Government had strict guidelines on the space allowance in connection with the hours of teaching a college provided.  At that time the roof terrace would have exceeded our allowed space and so we weren’t allowed to utilise it.

As this has changed the college may now need to utilise this space for further teaching facilities and so we’re considering plans to develop this area which means that it cannot be used as a terrace.
8  Can there be an arrangement made for the Physics AS on Friday, lecturer always has to leave early to get to Bede Campus on time?

The teacher has discussed the situation with the affected AS Physics class at Washington.  The issue was that the teacher was required to travel between Washington and Bede.  This has now been resolved with AS students at Washington getting the full hour on a Friday morning.

9  Why are student cards £5 if you miss place them?

The college provides a range of free services to students, including printing, library loan and IT access amongst others.  These services are free at the point of use, in fact free printing is not something which is not offered widely at other colleges.  To help us continue to provide these services free, we ask that students take care of the property issued to them by us.  Where items are lost we ask that students cover the re-issue of cards to cover these costs, however our costs to replace students cards are £2.50 across all sites.  If a charge of £5 has been communicated to you I would like to investigate this further.  If you could provide me with more details this would be much appreciated.

10  I think we should get free bus passes £64 a month. I pay over the top! Or a free bus and more bursary.

The College must carefully balance the needs of all students to ensure that we provide access to our programmes for all.  The government sets criteria against which qualifying students can access financial support.  The benefits we offer are carefully monitored to make sure that those students requiring the greatest financial support receive it.  The financial support we offer is amongst the best in the region and we’re committed to continuing to support our students in every way we can, from financial to learning and welfare services.  There may be more that our student services team can do for you.  If you haven’t already done so I would ask that you contact our team to discuss this and to find out more about the support services we have available.  It would also be useful to know from which area you travel into College to help us reassess our free bus services. 

11  Is the price of food going to change? It is sky high.

We price food within the cafes and refectories to cover costs, the College does not make profit on these products.  However I have asked the team to look at our pricing structure to ensure that there are dishes available across a range of price points.

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