IN A YEAR dominated by pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, the world of teaching and learning was turned on its head.

Despite the challenges, South Lanarkshire College ended the year on a positive note, with sector-leading student satisfaction levels.

Depute Principal Stella McManus explained: “The College recorded a 90 percent student satisfaction level, which was slightly above the sector average of 89 percent, for Further Education students; and 87 percent, compared to 80 percent sector average, for Higher Education students - and we are delighted with such a positive result.”

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She added: “The learning environment changed so quickly during the pandemic, that we had to work extremely hard to ensure students were still positive, motivated and inspired.

“The last year has been difficult for everyone, starting with a lockdown, but we worked together to strive and succeed in the new ‘normal’. These results are testament to that.”

Key to the success, added Ms McManus, was staff ‘pulling together’ to ensure engagement levels among students remained high.

“All staff, not just lecturers, but support staff and in all departments, rallied round to help students and each other,” she said.

“This was evident in the nurture initiatives we introduced, such as online yoga and mindfulness sessions, and our work with the Student Association, free soup and a sandwich initiative for students attending the campus. During this time, we wanted to ensure no student was worried about studying whilst hungry.

“We continued to be mindful of how hard life had become for some during the pandemic, with job losses and redundancies. Staying in touch was essential – we sent 4,500 emails a week updating everyone on what was happening at the college, and how people could access support.”

South Lanarkshire College offers more than 200 courses to 5,000 students across three faculties: Business, Construction and Care, catering for everyone from senior phase pupils and those with significant barriers to learning through to third year degree level students.

For many students, deferring completion of their courses to next year was simply not an option, with some requiring qualifications to secure a job. South Lanarkshire College, like all further education colleges, quickly adapted health and safety procedures, including adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing, increased cleaning processes and regular inspections, to allow small groups of students back on campus to allow them to finish.

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In fact, points out Ms McManus, the College did not close its doors at all during 2021.

“As an anchor institution in our local community, we were very mindful that we were and continue to be, a safe place for students and staff,” she said. “From online learning to blended learning – on campus and virtually – and then through to having small groups of students back on campus, we have remained open throughout 2021, to support our staff, students and the community.

“We took a holistic approach to allow students the time and opportunity to complete their qualifications to a high standard.

“By introducing innovative learning and teaching practices, new ways of using IT and digital learning, we could support some of the most vulnerable students. We could also celebrate success - for example, in February, we held our first ever Virtual Graduation ceremony, which was viewed by more than 900 students along with their friends and families.”

Students at the College have continued to achieve well despite the pandemic – on top of the College’s own diversity and inclusivity trophy in the S1jobs.com Recruitment Awards, roof slating and tiling student Jordan Maley won the prestigious Great British Slate Off 2021 at this year’s NFRC competition, and HNC Hairdressing alumnus Sharon Robertson McCurdy scooped first place in the Colour the Cut category at prestigious Wella Trendvision Awards UK and Ireland.

In the Scottish Funding Council’s most recent College Leavers Destination Survey 2019-20, South Lanarkshire College is slightly above the national average at 86.4 percent. Of those who confirmed, 93.1 percent were in positive destinations.

“These figures cover the period 2019 to 2020, so relate to students leaving in the middle of the first lockdown, when the pandemic was at its height,” said Ms McManus. “The college has continued to provide learning opportunities for more students than in previous years and continues to exceed Scottish Government targets. This is once again testament to the hard work of staff during a very challenging time.”

Those challenging times are not over, acknowledges the Depute Principal.

She added: “With a new variant and ongoing uncertainty, the Scottish Government and education sector are rightly cautious but we are hopeful that this year will bring more opportunities for students to continue to learn and achieve and to experience the excitement of life on campus. In addition, we are excited to be recruiting now for our January courses and also will be launching our August offer at the end of this month.