College boss’ journey from Denmark to St Helens

St Helens College Principal Jette Burford
St Helens College Principal Jette Burford
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St Helens College principal Jette Burford has come a long way - in more ways than one - since her days growing up in rural Denmark.

Born on the island of Lolland - due south of the capital Copenhagen - Jette, pronounced “yetta”, only moved to Merseyside at the age of 23 after marrying an Englishman.

Since then, she has never looked back, forging a hugely successful career in education.

In her first major interview since becoming the principal of St Helens College two years ago, Jette said: “I came to England having already completed the Danish equivalent of a BA in history and BSc in maths and studied towards a masters degree at Liverpool University.

“I was then privileged to be awarded a Royal Society research fellowship, which enabled me to complete a PhD in pure maths at Liverpool and the University of Michigan.

“I later became a lecturer in computer science and maths before becoming the North West regional director of the University for Industry.

“I then joined Hugh Baird College in Liverpool as deputy principal before being promoted to principal - a post I held for six years.”

Tasked with achieving cost savings at St Helens College while driving up performance standards, Jette admits she faced something of a baptism of fire.

But the college is now performing in the top 25 per cent of schools and colleges nationally, with nearly two thirds of students exceeding targets based on their GCSE grades.

“There were performance of the curriculum and financial issues to address when I arrived,” she admitted.

“But I’m very pleased to say that, two years on, we have addressed those issues successfully. To achieve cost savings at the same time as improving our performance is not easy.”

Jette cited high levels of student satisfaction and engagement as key indicators of the progress being made and told how the college now faces two key challenges - to help students find jobs and to achieve an “outstanding” rating in the next Ofsted inspection.

She said: “We will be using our links with big employers to help get our students work experience and job opportunities and we’re really proud of our approach to career 

“In the current economic climate it’s more important than ever for students to get the education and training they need.

“The economic downturn has not just affected our students in terms of job opportunities either - we now offer a free breakfast every day.

“When you work in an office all day with budgets and statistics, it’s the time you spend going out into the corridor and talking to the students that keeps you motivated.”

Jette, a member of the education task force aimed at driving up education standards in St Helens, also revealed three big developments on the horizon.

The first is a £5m upgrade to the college’s technology campus which will create better classrooms and workshops for students studying the likes of construction, engineering and animal care - as well as a new library and refectory.

The others are the launch of both a 14-16 academy, offering Year 9 pupils an alternative to school, and the re-introduction of A-levels.

Jette added: “The 14-16 academy, which starts this September, offers pupils the opportunity to study vocational options such as engineering, construction, hospitality and catering alongside the national curriculum.

“And the re-introduction of A-levels will give students the opportunity to progress through the college right from the age of 14 to completing a degree.”