Question time with Paul Hoffman Principal of Surrey Adult Learning
Why did you come to Surrey Adult Learning?
"When I joined the organisation it was a mess: Adult and Community Learning had failed the Ofsted inspection, we were facing significant financial challenges and we had lost the confidence of our County Councillors who were considering closing the Surrey Adult Learning provision, which would present a negative impact for Surrey residents. This was a serious cause for concern at the time and we needed to make some important changes. I set about implementing change which included encouraging our staff to develop their self-confidence and build a secure future for Surrey Adult Learning."
What was the biggest challenge during your decade of service with adult learning?
"One of the toughest periods of my career was the closure of the adult learning provision in Staines. I still regret this measure today, it was a mistake."
What would you consider to be our real strengths as an organisation?
"Well, we have quality Tutors that are qualified in their subject and bring a wealth of expertise and knowledge to share with our Learners. We have a team of staff behind-the-scenes who are passionate about Surrey Adult Learning and ensure the smooth running of every centre. From front-line teaching staff to support teams and our selfless volunteers, everyone comes together as one team in order to contribute to the success of Surrey Adult learning, providing our Learners with the best possible learning experience and delivering the promise of the Surrey Adult Learning Learner Charter. I hope that when our caretakers go home and people ask them "What do you do for a job?" they can confidently respond, "I help people get their GCSEs."
What makes you satisfied with the operational side of the service?
"It is important to market our activity. We need to tell people what's on offer and what's in it for them. I am proud that SAL is being marketed in an efficient and innovative way. We can measure the benefits of that through increased enrolments on our courses: figures are increasing from 9,000 Learners on our courses to 12,000 a year."
What changes have you seen over the years?
"We have seen the introduction of free Maths and English GCSE examinations on the curriculum. Five years ago they did not figure on the programme. Over 400 Surrey Learners have benefitted from the courses and getting those core qualifications that are needed for employment. Over 400 people have successfully achieved GCSE qualifications with SAL and this is great: we are building a more robust and skilled workforce in Surrey."
Are there other areas of Surrey Adult Learning that have made great inroads in our community?
"I am proud of the work of both the Family Learning and Outreach teams who work tirelessly to meet the needs of certain pockets of our community which require a personalised service. The Outreach team have been fantastic working on several projects with our partners for disadvantaged adults in our community, many struggling with poor literacy and numeracy skills. The courses improve these Learners' quality of life and I am glad to see we are making a difference in this area. The Family Learning team have worked to improve the lives of children and their parents, working closely with schools in the locality and offering offsite courses that have changed perceptions and lives."
What gives you a buzz as the Principal of Surrey Adult Learning?
"Award Ceremonies are really special and I enjoy seeing our Learners coming together to celebrate their hard work and endeavour. The Supported Learning Awards Ceremonies are particularly special and it is a privilege as Principal to hand out accredited awards to Learners with learning or living disabilities who work hard to improve the quality of their lives. It's very humbling for me to hand out the awards when I think of all the effort of my teams – from curriculum who design our courses, to the Tutors, the supported learning assistants, volunteers and the Learners themselves that make it happen. The award ceremonies are always a celebration and I am grateful to the staff that organise the events - it's not a party without great food!"
And what makes you feel most satisfied?
"Providing my staff with a space to be successful in their jobs is important to me."
What do you think you will miss the most?
"I will miss walking into a classroom and seeing Learners applying themselves purposefully to whatever skill they chose to learn or perfect. I will miss feeling the creative energy inspired by our outstanding Tutors."
Moving forward, what kind of challenges do you think Surrey Adult Learning will face?
"In my view the success of the Apprenticeship programme will be a vital component to the future success of SAL. Also, pressure from local government budgets may create some obstacles that we will need to navigate in order to steer the way forward for a clear path for Surrey Adult Learning."
What are your retirement plans?
"I am going to do some travelling, I will be spending the summer months in France, Autumn in Italy and during the bleak Winter here in the UK, I will be in Australia. I enjoy the Opera, so in August I will be sitting under the stars in Provence, France, watching the Barber of Seville by Rossini; I'm looking forward to that. Other special plans include attending the Rugby World Cup in 2019 in Japan, where I will be proudly sporting my "green and gold", the national colours of Australia! I will continue my courses that I have undertaken with SAL (that's Tai Chi and French). I hope to continue to keep those brain cells stimulated, meet interesting people and new friends. I wish all the team at Surrey Adult Learning a great future."