The new principal and chief executive at East Riding College has swapped life in the most cosmopolitan part of London for the very different challenge presented in Yorkshire.
Mike Welsh has told the Free Press it is “an honour and a privilege” to take on the role.
Life in Bridlington promises to be very different from his previous job as deputy prinicpal at the College of North West London, which had a campus in the shadow of Wembley Stadium and is based in the most diverse borough in the country.
“There were 129 different languages spoken as first languages by the students,” said Mike. “It was a large, inner-city college, double the size of East Riding College.
“It did a lot of construction and engineering work and every major infrastructure project in London and the South East, we had apprentice students working on it.
“We took students from every war zone in the world over the past decade, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Somalia – we took in new arrivals from India and Bangladesh who couldn’t speak a word of English and within five years they were winning at the Skills Olympics in robotics.”
When he joined in 2014, the London college was in the bottom 5% nationally. When he left it was in the top 15%.
But Mike believes there are similarities between his previous job and the new challenge facing him in East Yorkshire.
He said: “Some of the students here have, through no fault of their own, quite a low starting point and they may take longer than others to get to their destination.
“Bridlington is like a number of coastal towns, there is a common thread of higher proportion of deprivation and disadvantage. Further education colleges need to be doing their bit to raise aspirations and help people move forward with their lives.”
He also wants to give East Riding College a clearer identity and develop specialist areas.
Mike added: “The one thing that surprised me about such a great college –and during my research everyone spoke highly of the place if they have had a relative who has been to East Riding College – was that people couldn’t tell me what it was known for.
“It serves its local community and you have to have a broad curriculum to get students in, but you also need specialisms.
“We need to be coming up with a really strong identity.”
Mike is hoping that the new medical, health and care academy and mechatronics centre will help to change that and that the Bridlington site will become a trailblazer for hi-tech skills such as 3D printing, software development, robotics and design.
He said: “We need to work in partnership with Hull and Huddersfield universities to develop a really vibrant higher education offer for Bridlington. But we also need to make sure we have an entry point for everybody.”
One of Mike’s ambitions is to impress Ofsted inspectors enough for East Riding College to be classed as outstanding.
“The teaching and learning facilities and dedicated teachers are essential but it is the wrap-around services – financial support, counselling, learning support – which is what makes the difference between a good college and an outstanding college.
“We have a really strong art and design and fashion provision, and probably one of the best hair and beauty and catering facilities I have seen outside of London. Our courses are in very high demand.”
And he is hoping the college can play its part in Bridlington’s regeneration.
“The thing that struck me as I drove into Bridlington was that it has huge potential,” Mike said.
“There is all the infrastructure work going on, all the development and we invest around £5m into training in the town each year. It’s a huge investment.”
If you want street-cred with your new students, how is this for a claim to fame...Mike was Kasabian’s GCSE music teacher.
The Leicester band have played at Bridlington Spa, but he remembers them from the days when they were just starting out on their musical adventure.
Mike is a musician by trade but said he struggles to find the time to pursue his love of music.
A lifelong Manchester City supporter, his hobbies include gardening and cooking, and he keeps bees and chickens.
“I love live theatre and live music and try to go as often as I can,” he said.
As well as working at the College of North West London, his career has seen him work for a large training provider in the capital, at a college in Northamptonshire and as a deputy principal at a school specialising in performing arts. He also worked as an Ofsted inspector for six years.
Mike succeeds Derek Branton who retired at Christmas.
“The legacy Derek has left cannot be underestimated.
“The college he inherited and the one he left were very different places.
“It’s a huge honour and privilege to have this job and take this college to the next level.”