In Conversation With...

Issue 97

Ellen Beveridge - Chief Executive, Providence Learning Partnership

What were your career ambitions growing up?

I have always had a passion for creativity. I have enjoyed generating ideas, problem solving and searching out solutions – I suppose some would call it big picture thinking – from an early age. I was very artistic at school which is where I believe I developed my ability to think creatively. Training to be a technology/art teacher was a very natural progression route for me from art college. I knew I would have the space to continue to develop my own skills alongside developing new ones in the classroom. For me teaching was a profession that would provide me with the opportunity to make a positive difference to young people and adults lives. I knew very early on in my career that I wanted more responsibility but I never really thought I would become a Headteacher and then Chief Executive. I guess those roles found me. I have been fortunate enough throughout my career to work with colleagues who have inspired me and believed in me, giving me the confidence to take on roles that, although removed from teaching, have allowed me to make a difference holistically for the benefit of young people.

Tell us about your current role?

I have recently taken on the role of Chief Executive of Providence Learning Partnership after being the Headteacher of Durham Sixth Form Centre for 10 years. I am still based at Durham Sixth Form Centre and am still fortunate enough to continue to work alongside students and the same colleagues but in a slightly different way. Providence Learning Partnership is a new multi academy trust which was established to include Durham Mathematics School (DMS), once opened. I am working closely with colleagues from Durham University and the Department of Education to realise this specialist school, the only one in the north east, which will be one of eleven nationally.

This is an exciting opportunity for us but also for Durham who are amongst a limited number of cities to have such provision. Post-16 mathematics schools are some of the top performing schools in the country. Students enrolled at DMS will study A level Mathematics, A level Further Mathematics, A level Physics or A level Computer Science. They can also study a fourth option from the choice of A levels at Durham Sixth Form Centre if students have a passion for an alternative subject. DMS has week day boarding facilities for about a third of its students, those who travel from further afield who wish to take advantage of studying in a mathematical rich environment. They will continue their education at one of the top universities in the country, including Durham University

What is your proudest achievement in Education?

My proudest moments in education have always been those when you ‘see the penny drop’ in a young person’s eyes, either through my own teaching or that of my colleagues. It’s that moment when it all clicks into place and opens up the next level of learning. It is a priceless moment and never fails to make me smile.

My proudest achievement in Education has been the journey we have taken as Durham Sixth Form Centre over the past 10 years. Our journey, like many other schools, has been one that has seen many highs and some lows such is the rich tapestry of education.

We recently celebrated our 110 year anniversary which was a wonderful occasion and an opportunity for us all to reconnect with students and colleagues of the past, present and even future. For me, the event consolidated my 10 year journey as Headteacher but also facilitated us in having a better understanding of the journey of our school and its place in history; navigating difficult times such as the first and second world wars right up to the present day where we navigated our way through Covid. Our school is stronger than ever but only as a result of the many amazing people who have made the school, along the way, what it is today.

How has the world of Education changed in the last decade?

I think technology has changed the most over the last decade. I remember starting out as a young teacher with a chalk board and an overhead projector. Now we use technology in such a different way to aid and enhance our teaching but thankfully not at the expense of student learning. I also think the need for 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration are so much more prevalent now, especially in relation to the speed of how quickly everything happens as a result of new technologies. It takes many different skills to navigate your way through this as a young person. If we made mistakes at their age it was forgotten within a day, but for today’s young people mistakes can hang around for a lot longer. Resilience is both a skill and a mindset that we must continue to work on as we move forward at all levels, from all backgrounds and in all walks of life.

Tell us about the team you work with?

Intelligent, knowledgeable, focussed and kind. To quote Ofsted, ‘…the highly skilled leadership team have established a culture in which students flourish and grow.’. ‘The highly experienced governors are unstinging in their challenge of school leaders’. ‘All staff are committed to providing whatever it is the students need to succeed’. We live each day by our core values which were written by our staff:

High quality, inspirational teaching and learning;

Excellent support, care and guidance;

Personal and professional integrity;

Ambition and progress for our students, our communities and ourselves.

I think our values are excellent at summing up our culture, ethos and expectations.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given in your career?

It is perhaps an odd piece of advice to cite but I was once told to ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got’. I often think about this not from a sense of ambition or fashion but from the perspective of having high expectations of myself. We work together as a team at Durham Sixth Form Centre. We are fortunate in that we have an amazing opportunity to work with ambitious, academic and courageous young people everyday of our working lives. It is only right that they see we have high expectations of ourselves and through those high expectations it translates to high expectations of our students, hopefully inspiring the next generation.

What has been your biggest challenge?

This is a really sad one. We said goodbye to a colleague recently who, after a 12 month battle, died of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was also a friend. It has definitely been my toughest challenge. It is hard as a leader to sometimes get the right balance, particularly when it is about giving colleagues and students enough space to grieve and reflect with that of getting on with day-to-day business. I hope I got it right.

Who are your heroes inside and outside of business?

My heroes outside of business are my family. They allow me the space and freedom to love and enjoy my work, it is more a vocation than just a job to me. My heroes inside…working with colleagues who, despite everything, show absolute, unconditional dedication to their role in school and the work they do with their students, in whatever capacity.

Education is about making a difference, we give so much of ourselves every day in realising this. Teachers and support staff never really switch off, we are often told to but doing and saying are two very different things! Young people keep you young in yourself, they keep you in touch with the changes in the world and what that means to them growing up. What a privilege to be part of that on a daily basis.

How do you unwind outside of work

I spend as much time as I can with family and friends. We walk lots, eat out, go to the cinema and holiday together. We are fortunate to have been on lots of fantastic holidays together and as a result have some amazing memories. We walk a lot in the Lake District, we’ve been horseback riding in Texas, whitewater rafting in the Rockies, snorkelling in the Indian ocean to name but a few. Lots of fresh air, good conversation and lots of laughter. The best recipe for a work/life balance.

Favourite film?

I have two favourite films. Number one, Private Benjamin, I have lost count of how many times I have watched it growing up. And number two, The Holiday, a typical feel good romcom, I am sure we all like one of those!

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