‘High standards remain but our delivery will be slightly different’

Only months after opening their £78 million Falkirk campus, management at Forth Valley College were forced to shut it down when the government announced a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 10th August 2020, 7:30 am

The sites at Stirling and Alloa were also closed as much of the country came to a halt.

For college principal Dr Ken Thomson is was a bitter blow, particularly as the official opening of the Falkirk campus in Grangemouth Road had been due to take place days after the lockdown was announced.

However, schools and colleges have been given the go ahead to reopen and this week the principal talked about the planning process to get the students back.

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Dr Thomson said: “I’ve been waiting for this moment for five long months. We are ready to welcome our students and staff back to Forth Valley College and help begin the process of economic, social and educational recovery in the communities we serve.

“Since 2013 when I became principal, our Making Learning Work ethos has been the driving force that my colleagues and I have lived by. This was true before lockdown, it was true during lockdown, and it will be true as we emerge from lockdown and look to the future with cautious confidence.

“For us to resume campus operations in Falkirk, Stirling and Alloa, we have followed Scottish Government Guidance very closely to put in place several new measures.

“A General Risk Assessment for Covid-19 has been approved and supported by our unions. We have purchased additional cleaning equipment including disinfecting tunnels, ultra violet light cleaning machines and introduced enhanced deep cleaning processes such as a fogging system taking place at each campus when it is empty.

“College task forces have been working with support and teaching departments to provide guidance for return to campus making them acquainted with the redesign of classrooms, workshops, laboratories, refectories and flexible spaces to implement social distancing. This new normal will also include information on what fixtures, fittings and equipment should be cleaned after each lesson.

They have also worked with Directors of Curriculum to review workshops and practical spaces to ensure workable physical distancing regulations are in place and have agreed wherever possible, that students will be assigned to the same classroom for each day, utilising the same pieces of equipment.

“Glass screens have also been purchased and installed at key contact point areas and a keep left system has been implemented to allow for an easy flow of students to and from their classrooms or workshops and highly visible new signage has been put up to help with this.

“Communications to our staff, students and partners, including regular news items and videos, have been another priority for us throughout lockdown and as we prepare to return to campus. FAQs are also available on our website.

Dr Ken Thomson, principal of Forth Valley College

“Finally, staff, student and visitor guides have also been drafted and the Communications and Marketing Department will be continuing to issue regular e-zines and texts to new student applicants, current students, staff, partners and employers.

He said that support for staff and students is a key priority, adding: “We have been developing initiatives and services to make sure they can maintain a good sense of health and wellbeing throughout this challenging period, including an advice line for any issues they may have.

“We know that the challenges of remote work/study has undoubtedly caused issues. Many of our staff will have young families and have been home schooling, many may be caring for older relatives and some may live alone. We have been consciously helping them to maintain a healthy work-life balance throughout lockdown, which will be of benefit to everyone in the long run and we will always be there to help that continue as we push forward in the future.”

Looking at teaching, he said: “Our rapid switch from ‘Face to Face’ teaching on March 17 to online learning took a great effort, but because we had been sector leading in promoting distance learning and working remotely, our curriculum and support teams rose seamlessly to the challenge and are now sector leading in Scotland.

“This will stand us in good stead moving forward and our staff will use their new skills to benefit our students. Our high standards and quality will remain the same, but our delivery will be slightly different. We will now have an element of online remote working blended into course content as we all adjust to a new type of further and higher education.

“It has to be said that I am very proud of all my staff who have worked tirelessly, despite the challenges of lockdown, to ensure most of our students either completed their studies and gained the qualification they were hoping for, or were able to finish the current year and continue their studies with FVC. Take care and stay safe.”