The new principal of Swindon’s New College University Centre outlined her plans to improve students’ experience and career potential.

Leah Palmer is now permanently in charge of the post-16 educational facility’s North Star and Queens Drive campuses after acting as interim principal and CEO since her predecessor Carole Kitching stepped down last August.

Her aims involve focusing on careers rather than courses so that students learn important communication, time management, and teamwork skills that employers are looking for along with the knowledge gained from study sessions.

Added attention to mental health is also key, as the long-term effects of the pandemic's lockdowns on high school students have become more apparent as they start college.

The new senior leadership team Leah leads is putting in place a range of new initiatives in a bid to create an inclusive culture, an ambitious curriculum offer, and what they describe as a learner-first ethos and focus on aspirational excellence.

Leah hopes that all this will help the college achieve an Outstanding Ofsted grade in the next five years.

Currently, New College is rated Requires Improvement, after being criticised in their first report last year since merging.

She said: "I'm a product of further education and have direct experience of what it can do to transform lives.

"I came from a failing comprehensive and found myself in a great college where I discovered my vocation and met friends for life.

"I have a responsibility to provide that experience for others.

"The impact Covid had on the way our learners are learning has compounded as new cohorts enter further education.

"There are many more instances of extra support needs at our college and others, so we have to adapt to that and invest in these areas."

In her 35 years of experience in education, the head previously held senior leadership roles at two colleges rated as Outstanding by Ofsted - Fareham College and Weston College - and she wants to use what she has learned to improve Swindon's biggest post-16 provision.

She added: “I’m absolutely delighted to be leading New College Swindon on our journey to excellence.

"We will create an ambitious approach to developing all our learners with the knowledge and behaviours and wider employability skills required for successful future careers.

“We will do this through the excellent infrastructure of support offered through our highly qualified and dedicated staff, our impressive facilities, shaping good practice, and by working with local employers and other stakeholders on innovative initiatives such as our Careers Extra programme to help meet the needs of our local community.

“I have a really good team of experienced colleagues, Carole has been fabulous during this transition period and offered pearls of wisdom, and it's also important to collaborate with other principals in the area."

Board of governors chair Martin Wyn Griffith said: “Leah has already started to make the changes needed to improve our students’ experience and enhance the quality of what we deliver to them.

“The board is keen to make sure that we improve rapidly and sustainably ensuring what we provide in terms of education and learning is of the highest standard."

A new civil engineering provision is in the works for September 2024 and a new electric vehicle training centre is due to be opened in September 2025, while both campuses are reconfigured to improve access to student support services.

The projects will cost up to £8 million altogether.

Matt Butcher, chief commercial strategy officer, added: “Leah has a deep understanding of the further education sector and how we as a college need to transform to become one of the leading education providers in the south west.

“We feel Leah Palmer’s student-centred approach echoes that of the new executive team. We are excited to move forward as Swindon’s one college."