Tough first year pays off at college on the way up

OVERSEEING almost 16,000 learners and 700 members of staff, based at four separate college sites, is a daunting prospect but one that Fintan Donohue has taken on with great enthusiasm. Earlier this month Mr Donohue, 52, celebrated his first year in charge

OVERSEEING almost 16,000 learners and 700 members of staff, based at four separate college sites, is a daunting prospect but one that Fintan Donohue has taken on with great enthusiasm.

Earlier this month Mr Donohue, 52, celebrated his first year in charge as the principal of North Hertfordshire College.

He stated at the start of his tenure that he wanted to make the college "one of the best performing in the country" and he has already seen marked progress - the college recently received a "good" Ofsted inspection, an improvement from the "satisfactory" report it received in 2003.

"In April the college was notified a year earlier than expected of a full inspection by Ofsted and that meant a huge amount of organisation and preparation that we hadn't expected," said Mr Donohue.


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"However the great news was, for Stevenage and North Hertfordshire in general, that the inspectors concluded that the college had improved from being a satisfactory college to being a good college and had highlighted the fact that leadership was strong and governance was good.

"It provided a major boost to the community, the staff and to the students as a whole to have this praise.

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"If you are looking at our achievements this year, being able to secure the confidence of Ofsted and getting a good inspection report has been a huge boost for everyone and a big boost for me."

The report also endorsed the other important aspect of Mr Donohue's first year in charge - management changes.

Leading to 20 job cuts, reorganising the college's management structure was forced upon them by the Government's changing priorities for further education.

"There was a stronger emphasis on skills and employability and therefore the first challenge was to reposition the college more effectively in the market place.

"The positive thing for me is that the union had highlighted the positive way it was all handled and the way we conducted that reorganisation as an example of good practice."

Mr Donohue admits the first year has been tough, with most of his time being spent looking inwards, but he believes progress has already been made.

He said: "I think the challenge was to take the college from its satisfactory inspection in 2003 to be higher performing and the evidence is that we are actually doing that.

"Clearly my predecessor in particular did very well in building local partnerships and improving the college sites and he gave me a great legacy to build on.

"I inherited a very good work force that has been extremely flexible to the changes I have brought in and has been very positive.

"It's important to say there are still significant improvements to make in quality and the levels of success rates that students achieve in the college and my major challenge is to bring it into the top 10 per cent of colleges in the UK.

"It's a challenge I really relish and welcome and one that I have a good track record in. While I was coming to a good college, there is still plenty of work to do."

Mr Donohue's track record in education. nine years as vice principal at Barnfield College, Luton, where he helped create the first beacon further education college in the country. He had also held the post of deputy principal at Milton Keynes College.

Despite a long and successful stint in education, it was not a career that the father-of-two had always dreamed of.

Mr Donohue, who lives in Linslade, Bedfordshire, spent part of his youth show jumping and working part time in racing stables but went to university and gained a law degree at Newcastle and a masters in philosophy at Huddersfield.

He said: "I think my intention was to become a barrister but the financial barriers at the time meant that I began to get into teaching law at Central London Polytechnic. From that point onwards my career developed within the educational sphere rather than through the legal sphere so it was through economical necessity."

His wife is a Buckinghamshire primary school teacher and his son and daughter are both currently studying at university.

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