City College Norwich - looking to the future

Sarah BrealeyCity College Norwich is the region's biggest college and responsible for training much of the city's workforce. In National Apprenticeships Week, Sarah Brealey looks at the college's future in the first of a week-long Evening News series on the college.Sarah Brealey

City College Norwich is the region's biggest college and responsible for training much of the city's workforce. In National Apprenticeships Week, Sarah Brealey looks at the college's future in the first of a week-long Evening News series on the college.


The region's biggest college is pressing on with its ambitions despite missing out on millions of pounds of cash for development.

Last summer City College Norwich was dealt a blow when its plans for a major �173m redevelopment missed out on the expected funding from the Learning and Skills Council. It had already spent �3m on the plans.

But the plans have not been torn up - instead they are being kept for better financial times, and the college is hoping that they will be able to do the building work at a later date, although it is now more likely to be bit by bit rather than all at once.

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The major building work, which aroused some opposition from local residents, would have seen state-of-the-art facilities and better opportunities for students to get experience of the real world of work, such as a garage where motor vehicle students could work on customers' cars.

College principal Dick Palmer said: 'It was such a big project. There is no single solution. We are still sticking with the conceptual part of it, which is around making sure our students not only get the skills training and the knowledge training, but get to apply that in a realistic work environment.'

Now the college's approach is to work with partners to make use of their facilities. Sports science students are getting involved at the Norfolk Football Academy in Hellesdon. And talks are under way with a city garage about the college taking over the garage so students can work on people's cars there instead.

The next part of the strategy is to invest in the current buildings, making sure the facilities are up to scratch and fit for the 21st century. The college has spent �9m on its existing facilities in the last five years, including a new one-stop shop bringing together information and advice services, which opened last year.

And the third part is applying for more funding as it becomes available - but it will mean the project is years behind the original plans.

Mr Palmer said: 'We are looking for what new sorts of funding we can get to continue the design in stages. There will be further investment available, the government is putting money into college capital projects, but there are colleges throughout the country that are in a worse state than us.

'Clearly in the next three to five years with recession we don't see ourselves doing any new building on this site. We are looking at 15-20 years rather than doing it in a couple of years.'

One of the college's priorities is lifelong learning, which includes adults returning to education - even if this is more difficult for people to pay for during tough economic times. Mr Palmer said the college keeps prices as low as possible, and also has a hardship fund. 'We have had a report done which says that if you invest in education you will get the money back. A person who gets a level two qualification will over their lifetime earn �100,000 more than if you don't have that qualification. For a level three qualification it is �150,000 more than if you don't have that qualification.'

Today's education market is a competitive one, where the college has to sell itself to students. Mr Palmer said: 'Students are our first customers, absolutely. Students are closely followed by employers, who are also our customers.'


City College recently unveiled its five-year strategy, spelling out its plan to be among the top ten colleges in the country.

This means having success rates in the top 10pc for further education, an Ofsted rating of outstanding for overall effectiveness and for leadership and management, and the highest grade, grade one, in the government's Framework for Excellence assessment.

Principal Dick Palmer says: 'The most important bit to me is that we are making a really overt statement about where we want to be in five years' time.

'We are being very aspirational, and saying this is the college we want to be. It is genuinely unique and different. I haven't seen another strategy like that.'

The strategy has been more than a year in the making and was drawn up with input from business leaders and community representatives.

But much of the strategy is not about statistics or bricks and mortar, but what kind of people, from students to staff to governors, the college wants to have in the future.

Mr Palmer said: 'Normally a strategic plan is about having money and performance. This is a description of the new identity we want to have. We tried to make it easy to remember by talking about the six Ss, which sounds like successes. The six Ss are 21st-century students, staff, skills, systems, sites and stakeholders.'

The students they want to have in future will leave qualified, confident and prepared for the next stage of their career. They will have made a positive communication to college life, be team workers and also self-managers, have technology skills and the ability to filter and prioritise information.

Staff will be flexible, creative team, student-focused workers. They should be ambassadors for the college and actively pursue their own professional development. Teachers will be experts in their subject, inspirational and engaged with employers and the skills that they demand.

Mr Palmer said: 'Our staff will have the best customer care skills. If you ring up to find out about a course, if you don't get the sort of response you want you can say to me, hang on Mr Principal, this hasn't happened.'

And he said stakeholders, or partners, are very important.

Hard cash does have a role in the strategy too - the college is aiming for a turnover of more than �50m, up from �44m at the moment.

Mr Palmer says: 'With the recession we think that is going to be one of the hardest challenges. We want to grow student numbers. We haven't picked any numbers, but pro rata that would be about another thousand students.'

One of the biggest challenges is meeting the needs of tomorrow's employers, who may not even know what their needs are yet. 'If an employer wants someone with the skills today, I have to have thought about that two to three years ago.

'We want to work with employers to have this predictive curriculum that will meet the needs of employers tomorrow.'

Technology will be vital to the future - Mr Palmer, whose background is in computing, says technology is 'part of my passion', though he does not believe it will ever replace face to face learning. The college already has a 'virtual blackboard' which students can access over the internet, and pick up teaching resources and handouts which they may have missed. There is already a virtual City College in the online virtual world Second Life, and in future the college expects for some learning through Second Life or similar tools.

Mr Palmer said: 'I feel technology is about a single mum whose daughter gets sick. Rather than missing that day's education she goes online, goes onto second life and gets the resources and perhaps watches a film of the teaching she missed.'

And he believes social networking including Facebook, blogging and Twitter, is 'a great way' of students helping each other to learn, and it is something the college is pursuing.


City College Norwich has 14-16,000 students each year: 1 in 3 young people aged 16-19 who study in Norfolk study there.

It is the largest college in East of England.

Its annual contribution to the Norfolk economy is worth more than �100m.

Courses cover every major vocational area apart from agriculture and run from entry level to post-graduate.

City College Norwich was the first Further Education College in the UK to gain official Awarding Organisation Status

The college is the lead sponsor of the new City Academy formerly Earlham High School in Norwich, with co-sponsors University of East Anglia, Norfolk County Council and Norwich School.

The college is divided into nine schools: business & computing; creative arts; foundation studies; hair & beauty therapy industries; health, social care & early education; hotel school; lifelong learning, sixth form centre; and technology.

The college has partnerships with 32 high schools across county.


Famous alumni of city college include the actor, broadcaster and writer Stephen Fry; the Michelin-Starred chef Tom Aikens; West Ham and England goalkeeper Robert Green; Radio Norfolk presenter Chris Goreham; and singer-songwriter Cathy Dennis.

City College Norwich is planning to establish an alumni association for its former students. It will help them stay in touch with other students and former lecturers, keep up-to-date with what is happening at the college, get discounts on services provided by the College, access to college events, performances and exhibitions, and link in to the college's employer networks.

If you went to the college, email if you would like to be kept informed about the college's alumni association.

To find out more about studying at the college, visit or ring 01603 773311.