MESSAGE TO THE CLASS OF 2021 – Use your education to change your world

Congratulations on achieving your qualification! I am so very proud of you and know that your success will inspire others.

To the children watching the ceremony – be inspired by your mum, dad, sister, brother, cousin or other relative you are supporting. There is a reason they are wearing capes today – they are all super students, super heroes, and I hope you follow their example and become future graduates.

This graduation ceremony rounds off the most unusual and difficult college year we’ve ever had. When I spoke at last year’s virtual graduation, I said that students had faced the worst year ever. Incredibly, the year that followed was even worse and that was the year you studied for the qualification you’re graduating with today.

Despite being the worst year imaginable, more of our students achieved their qualifications than ever before! Looking out at this audience of graduates gives me great confidence and hope.

I see future nurses, social workers, cares and early years practitioners who will look after us throughout our lives. I see future hair, beauty, art, cookery and sports professionals who will create things of beauty and help us feel better about ourselves. I see scientists, engineers and software developers who will contribute to improving the way we work and live our lives.

I know you are all going to make a difference to people’s lives, to the communities you live in, and to the organisations you’ll work in.

I graduated 30 years ago. After being away from education for a while I started my course with a new baby, a low income and a fear that I just wasn’t clever enough to achieve my qualification. What got me through was the kindness and support from my lecturers, my husband, and my doctor as I struggled with post-natal depression in my first year.

When I walked nervously across the stage to receive my graduation scroll, inside I was screaming ‘I did it!’ and thinking about all those who helped me. I know that for many of you a big part of sticking with college and achieving your qualification in such a hard year was the help you got from people around you – your lecturers, family, friends and other students.

I want to say a bit more about the lecturers and other staff who helped you make it through the year. Lecturers worked so hard to deliver your courses in different ways using digital technology. When you were on campus, they made the most of their time with you to help you get through your practical work. And, during the winter lockdown, some even delivered material to your door so you could practice your skills at home.

Our wonderful support staff provided funding in many crisis situations, including preventing evictions. They helped students struggling with isolation and dips in their mental health. They gave out laptops and helped students get online so they could access their learning. And they helped lift your spirits when you were on campus.

I’ve always been impressed by the staff in this college and how much they care for our students. The way they stepped up last year was phenomenal, almost super-human, our own college super heroes.

Lockdown was hard and saw another complete shift to online delivery. On top of that, many of you had to home school children or care for relatives while trying to get on with your own learning. But, you did it! So, very well done!

Many of you are now continuing your education at university or college. Some of you have already moved onto jobs to begin your career. If things haven’t yet worked out as you’d planned, don’t worry. Your qualification and skills are valuable and they will count.

If you’re ever struggling, remember that you were one of a generation of students who kept going through a pandemic that turned the world upside down. So, be very proud of yourself and of that precious qualification you have.

And, while others may have supported you over the year, don’t forget that you were the main reason for your success. You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You kept going when times got tough.

You have shown you can stick with it in the most difficult times. Use the determination and grit to succeed in whatever you do next – no matter what challenges you face.

My advice in this next phase of your life is to stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. Invest time in keeping yourself mentally well to so you can cope with any knocks you face and come out stronger. And, whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself.

When I was a student, I read a lot on the long bus journeys to and from college. One of my favourite authors was Maya Angelou who said something that has stuck with me for many years. She said:

“People might forget what you said, people might forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That is so true. Every day in college I hear students talk about staff who made them feel valued, confident in themselves and respected.

Your graduation takes place during Black History Month. Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black President of South Africa after spending nearly 30 years in prison for opposing a racist regime. Despite facing terrible injustice, he believed that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Education is powerful. Use your education to change your world. If you can, use your education to change other people’s worlds for the better in the jobs that you are or you will be doing. Use your education to change the world!

Thank you for choosing West Lothian College. It has been a great privilege to be a part of your journey towards a happy and successful future. And remember – we regard you as part of our college family, so please keep in touch, let us know how you’re getting on, and come back and visit us.


Thirty years on, and the gender gap in computing is as wide as it ever was!

It’s the second Tuesday in October which means it’s Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace, born over two centuries ago, wrote the first ever computer programme — 100 years before computers were even invented!

I graduated with a computing degree thirty years ago. Three decades on — in a world exponentially more dependent on tech than when I graduated — there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in tech than when I was a computing student!

The proportion of girls choosing computing qualifications at school, college and university is stubbornly low. Yet, throughout history, women have played an important role in computing. Ada Lovelace Day stakes our claim in this exciting world by celebrating women from the past and present.

Two years ago, we created our first bespoke cyber security lab at West Lothian College. On the wall leading up to the lab we charted a history of computing that includes many pioneering women and men.

While it’s important to recognise and celebrate the contribution that women have made in the history of computing, it is even more important to acknowledge today’s women in computing.

Women like West Lothian College cyber security lecturer Christine Eckford and pioneering computing science teacher Toni Scullion.

Thirty years after I graduated in computing, women like Toni and Christine give me hope that we will address the gender gap in computing in my lifetime!


Life-changing and life-saving — a whole college approach to student wellbeing

Long before the pandemic, increasing numbers of college students were experiencing poor mental health. This increased due to the disruption to learning, forced social isolation, financial problems and uncertainty caused by Covid19.

Additional funding from the Scottish Funding Council is welcome and has helped colleges support student wellbeing. With this, we’ve given greater financial support to students facing poverty and homelessness – factors that often lead to poor mental health.

We recruited additional mental health experts including counsellors who, despite being limited to counselling online for the past year, report success in supporting students. Students report how critical this support is through unsolicited, independent feedback.

Our whole college approach

Government funding alone is not sufficient to support this growing problem. At West Lothian College, our approach to tackling the student mental health crisis involves our whole college community – within and outwith the college.

Our whole college approach supplements the excellent work of our support staff who work every day with students facing homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health difficulties like self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

It includes lecturers and other staff leading with empathy to support students struggling with challenges that impact negatively on their mental health that in turn affects their learning.

It includes incorporating mental health units into a range of qualifications that enable students to better understand how to recognise and deal with poor mental health and maintain good mental wellbeing.

It includes proactive initiatives from our caring and compassionate student association who worked with partners and college staff to create an outdoor wellbeing space that all students can benefit from when they’re on campus.

Tackling stigma

Collaboration across subject areas is an important part of our whole college approach. Tackling the stigma associated with poor mental health is a consistent thread in this. Before the pandemic took hold, our student association and lecturer Marion Darling organised a very successful mental health and wellbeing event in which over 1,200 students took part. Beauty students provided free treatments to aid wellbeing, and sports students carried out health checks and led kickboxing lessons as a way of managing stress.

Students on health, social care and construction courses worked together on an anti-stigma campaign. They created a giant wooden story book and wooden sculptures which they located in the middle of the campus. These contained stories from students and staff about their experiences of dealing with poor mental health, and highlighted the stigma around poor mental health. Importantly, these made mental health visible to every student and member of staff at the college.

Encouraging students to talk

Suicide is at a five-year high in Scotland and the college supports the United to Prevent Suicide movement. To spread the message of this movement, our staff and students created a short film that has been promoted widely on social media.

With men three times more likely than women to die by suicide, lecturers Thomas Barlow and Matt Farnham set up The Man Cave WLC. This safe informal space to come together and talk without being judged is opening up discussion amongst male students.

The college makes visible the mental health challenges that some students face so that they know there is help available.

Working with partners to be a trauma-responsive college

We are always seeking to enhance support for our students and embark regularly on new partnerships that make the most of available resources.

We work with local mental health charities like The Brock Centre in Broxburn and the Neil’s Hugs Foundation. Our students are able to access their specialist services, while the charities benefit from students and staff in the college raising funds to enable them to help more people in West Lothian.

Our whole college approach has staff helping students to improve their wellbeing and cope with the challenges they face. For example, lecturers in subjects like care and hairdressing hold regular informal Tea and a Chat sessions with students, encouraging them to share their worries and listen to how others have dealt with mental health problems.

Two years ago we committed to being a trauma-responsive college, recognising that poor mental health is often a result of adverse childhood experiences. With partners like the West Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership, S.M.I.L.E. Counselling and others, we are helping to prevent young people getting caught up in a life of crime, through education wrapped in a package of support that helps develop ways of dealing with addiction and trauma.

We are an inclusive, empathetic and caring college, ambitious for all of our students. Through our whole college approach to mental health and wellbeing our staff, student association and partners go out of their way to enable everyone and anyone to succeed.

It is no exaggeration to say that their efforts and life-changing for many and life-saving for some.

Making Cyber Security Accessible to Everyone

Ada Lovelace Day celebrates women in computing and I want to highlight someone who is helping to make cyber security qualifications and careers available to a wide range of people.

West Lothian College computing lecturer Christine Eckford has been shortlisted for the Cyber Educator Award at the forthcoming Scottish Cyber Awards. The Scottish Cyber Awards is a cornerstone of the annual calendar of cyber events in Scotland and the awards ceremony will take place during Cyber Scotland Week in November 2020.

Christine has been shortlisted for delivering a bespoke cyber security course for neurodivergent young people with conditions like Asperger’s and Autism.

The students took part in the ten-week course in late 2020 in one of the college’s Cyber Labs. They learned about the fundamentals of cyber security and relevant legislation, and took part in hands-on activities to identify security issues and develop the necessary skills to protect against these. Students also benefited from engaging with a variety of leading cyber security industry and university experts that Christine invited to speak to them.

All students completed the course and some are now studying full-time cyber security courses at college this year. Much of that success was down to the relationship between Christine and her students. As well as being available to them at all times, she shared her own experiences as a neurodivergent person.

Christine has built on this experience to deliver cyber security courses to other groups of students who would not have typically opted to study computing.

Christine is well-deserved a finalist in the Cyber Educator category at the Scottish Cyber Awards. She is an outstanding lecturer with a talent for making cyber security qualifications accessible to a wide range of people, helping them gain highly sought-after skills.

Outdoor wellbeing space created BY students FOR students

Students at West Lothian College have created an outdoor wellbeing space on the campus by repurposing a former smoking area. The college went smoke and vape free last summer, leaving a number of shelters out of use and in danger of becoming an eyesore.

Health and social care students needed to complete an enterprise unit as part of their course and decided to work together to design and build something for everyone at the college to benefit from.

Guided by their lecturer Marion Darling and supported by construction lecturer Julia Howard they transformed this mossy and disregarded part of the college grounds into a welcoming mindful space.

The students made furniture using items that were destined for landfill – wooden pallets, electrical cable drums, and trees that had been felled and were going to be used as firewood. They created large chalkboards to display information on local mental health support groups, and they made yoga areas and chill-out spaces.

Marion said:

“Each year, we normally run anti-stigma campaigns on how mental health is talked about and treated. This year, when so many of us have experienced challenges around our own mental health as a result of the pandemic, we decided to create an outdoor space that fostered wellbeing.

Most of these students had never held drills, hammers or saws but they poured their hearts and souls into this project. They really embraced the hard work and challenge of turning the space into a welcoming wellbeing area.”

Students converted shelters into seating and planting areas, created outdoor seats and tables, and made beautiful decorations. Now, all students and staff can take advantage of this outdoors space to relax, unwind and reenergise.

At West Lothian College we aim to lead with vision and empathy — and this is exactly what these students and lecturers have done. They took a vision for an outdoor wellbeing space, motivated by an empathy for those struggling with anxiety or poor mental health, and made it a reality!

This brilliant work by Marion and her students, supported by Julia, has created a space that will help students and staff stay stay mentally well by benefiting from a mindful outdoor space.

Building futures at West Lothian College

West Lothian College is investing £500,000 to expand its engineering and construction workshops to meet industry and student demand.

The new workshop area will double the space on the campus to deliver the practical aspects of engineering and construction courses. The expansion project and the new equipment that will be installed will allow the college to deliver an extended range of courses relevant to the construction and engineering sectors.

The project is being part-financed through additional funding from the Scottish Funding Council announced last year to stimulate the local construction sector by college estates developments following the first lockdown.

After a competitive tendering process, the college appointed Livingston-based company Maxi Construction Ltd to carry out the work.


Barry Simpson is Construction Director at Maxi Construction Ltd. He told us about the company’s commitment to invest in young people through jobs and work placements, and about West Lothian College graduate Louis Jones in particular.

Louis Jones is employed with Maxi Construction Ltd as an office administrator. We met in 2017 when the company participated in the Career Ready initiative when Louis was still at school. Since then, we have supported him in his learning journey, providing mentoring and work experience.

Currently, Louis is at Glasgow Caledonian University studying BSc Hons Construction Management after achieving HNC Construction Technology at West Lothian College.

When we first met Louis he was interested in a career as a joiner. We saw potential in him and discussed a career in management with him, but initially he was steadfast due to his interest in the trade. Our contracts manager kitted him out with tools as he gained work experience with us on-site, primarily in the joiner role that interested him. We arranged his placements so that he was able to see different facets of the construction industry to get an understanding of the various roles.

With strong organisational skills he showed an interest in the administration side of the business which led to his current placement where he has an opportunity to see various types of contract documentation and construction procedures. This lets him understand real life applications to compare against what he is learning in the classroom.

We met Graham Clark at the college in July 2019 to explore options as by then Louis had shown an interest in management but wanted to keep his options open. We learned that the HNC Construction Technology course was flexible and could be fine-tuned to suit his needs, and the enrolment was concluded. Louis was not confident in his academic ability at that stage but, with support and guidance from West Lothian College staff, he achieved a Grade A in his final unit which secured him a place at Glasgow Caledonian University.

At Maxi Construction Ltd we aim to provide support for school and college students where possible. We have participated in events including Career Ready, Developing the Young Workforce, and Action for Children. We have construction ambassadors who participate in STEM events around Central Scotland.

As well as offering site visits and Friday afternoon review sessions on the current project for West Lothian College students, pending lifting of the current restrictions, we are in discussion about opportunities for students participating in the college’s Project Search course. These discussions are being driven by West Lothian College Lifetime Ambassador, John McGhee. We have discussed short term work experience, presentations on interview preparation, and supporting interview experience for these young people.

Louis Jones works at Maxi Construction as Office Administrator. He told us about his experience with the company and West Lothian College over the last four years.

It was excellent news to hear that my employer Maxi Construction Ltd was awarded the Skills Centre extension project at West Lothian College where I was a student from 2017 to 2020.

My time at Maxi Construction started back in 2017 when I was chosen for the Career Ready school internship programme over the summer of 2018 before I started my last year at school. Maxi employed me when I left school in 2019 and supported me in my studies in 2019-20 at West Lothian College while I studied my HNC Construction Technology.

As soon as I walked through the doors on the first day of my internship in 2018, Maxi has felt like one big family to me. I am very grateful Maxi Construction supported me throughout my learning, having the on-site experiences and working in the office with directors, quantity surveyors, estimators, buyers and construction administrators. Having that support while studying for my HNC at West Lothian College earned me a Grade A in my final Graded Unit.

This helped me to get a place at Glasgow Caledonian University where I am currently studying for a BSc Hons Degree in Construction Management, again with Maxi Construction’s support.

I can’t thank everyone at West Lothian College enough for their support over the years. I also attended the college in 2017 and 2018, studying two schools programme courses – Level 4 Introduction to Carpentry and Joinery, and Level 5 Introduction to Construction Crafts.

I look forward to seeing the completion of the new mezzanine floor extension in the existing Skills Centre at West Lothian College.

West Lothian College — Our Vision, Goals, Values and Behaviours

Our vision – our WHY – is of a highly skilled, enterprising and resilient workforce.

We have a vision of a highly skilled workforce because employment forecasts for West Lothian tell us that there is a greater demand for higher level skills than exists in the working age population.

To have a highly skilled workforce needs people to be skilled at all levels, including entry and intermediate level, so that more are able to gain higher level skills.

We have a vision of an enterprising workforce. West Lothian has a smaller proportion of small businesses and self-employed people than other local authority areas. A healthy economy needs a balance of small, medium and large companies who, in turn, need enterprising employees able to adapt to ongoing change.

West Lothian also needs more people with the ambition, confidence and skills to create their own employment and business.

We have a vision of a resilient workforce because employees need to be able to cope and be productive in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world in which digital has an ever-increasing influence.

Four strategic goals – our WHAT – help us achieve our vision:

  • Inspiring and enabling success for all means providing opportunities for education and training that help people take the next step towards their ambition
  • Supporting economic recovery and growth is about how we help employers and employees survive the current crisis and come out of it able to take advantage of new opportunities
  • Strengthening our communities involves working with others to ensure local people benefit from education, training and jobs to improve their lives and wellbeing
  • Leading with vision and empathy is about how we innovate, grow and learn, and how we care for our students, colleagues and partners

Three values – our HOW – underpin our approaches to all that we do:

  • Being welcoming to all means we embrace equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Students at the centre of everything we do means exactly that
  • Always striving for better sums up our commitment to continuous improvement

Living our values means that we exhibit the following behaviours:

Welcoming to all

  • We are respectful and inclusive, and treat everyone as an individual
  • We listen actively, and communicate in an open and supportive way
  • We are positive role models, engaging with purpose and enthusiasm

Students at the centre of everything we do

  • We work together and support each other as part of a team
  • We are flexible and accommodating, and act on feedback to make changes
  • We are understanding and responsive, focusing on individual needs

Always striving for better

  • We evaluate and reflect on our practice to improve and succeed
  • We are open to new ways of working, look outwards and learn from others
  • We are proactive and forward looking, preparing for what may come next

If you would like to work with us to achieve our vision and goals please contact me at jgalbraith@west-lothian.ac.uk.

How West Lothian College is Supporting the Young Person’s Guarantee

In August 2020, the Scottish Government announced a Young Person’s Guarantee to support young people affected by the economic impact of Covid19. Over the next two years, the guarantee aims to give all young people the chance to succeed through a job, apprenticeship, education, training or volunteering.

In February 2021, the Scottish Funding Council announced that colleges were to benefit from £10 million to help implement the guarantee. This funding is part of the £60 million announced by the Scottish Government when it launched the Young Person’s Guarantee in November 2020.

This post describes how West Lothian College is helping make the guarantee a reality.

Our pledge as a college

West Lothian College pledged support for the Young Person’s Guarantee when it was launched in November, but we had already started planning what more we could do to help young people as far back as the first lockdown in 2020.

One of the ideas we came up with was the Skills Boost, a short burst of training to connect people to jobs in industry sectors that are recruiting.

A collaboration between Edinburgh, Fife, Forth Valley and West Lothian Colleges developed this idea further, along with Accelerator HNCs (Higher National Certificate). Both are now being rolled out in all colleges across Scotland supported with the funding announced by government.

The funding for the Young Person’s Guarantee is great news for colleges and are offering a new suite of courses to young people from February to July 2021 that enhance their qualifications and skills.

  • Four Accelerator HNCs — in Accounting, Cyber Security, Marketing Communications, and Social Sciences — will allow young people to achieve a full time higher education qualification in just five months.
  • Skills Boosts — short training courses in areas like Childcare, Health and Social Care, Storage and Warehousing, Customer Care and Business — will help connect young people to job opportunities.

Connor, a student on our new HNC Accounting Accelerator, said:

I decided to apply for this accelerated qualification because it will allow me to go straight into the second year of a university course. I am the first in my immediate family that will be going to university and this course will provide me with the skillset to pursue a prosperous future.

Ellie is a student on our new HNC Marketing Communication Accelerator course. Her early thoughts are:

I am doing the course because in my job I am involved a lot in the marketing side like running the social media. I have also started a small business where I work with other small businesses to design their branding, so I figured this would help me to get the most out of that.

I can hopefully progress further. My early impressions are that the course is well set out and the lecturers have a lot of knowledge that I can take away with me. I also like the delivery of the information, I find it interesting and easy to follow, and the tasks aren’t too overwhelming. After the course I am considering going back to university to study marketing further, unless a job opportunity or modern apprenticeship arises.

In addition to the Skills Boosts and HNCs Accelerators we are offering Pathway Apprenticeships that are six-month work-based courses that give young people a chance to fast track into paid apprenticeships.

Our pledge as an employer

As well as supporting the guarantee through our courses, we pledged our support as an employer to:

  • recruit apprentices to develop our own young workforce,
  • provide work experience opportunities to young people, and
  • offer six-month paid work placements at the college through the Kickstart scheme.

Last summer we advertised for a modern apprentice to work in our HR team. We appointed 21-year-old Katie Dewar who is studying Business and Administration SCQF Level 6 while she learns on the job.

Here’s what Katie had to say about her apprenticeship so far:

My job involves providing efficient, high quality, professional administrative support. I work closely with other HR team members, as well as with managers across the college. The job covers the full range of the recruitment and selection process from advertising, shortlisting, arranging interviews to completing all contractual documentation. I manage all contact from staff and managers to the HR email inbox.

I am finding my apprenticeship really interesting. Learning through Proof Positive has been very clear and structured and allows me to work through a unit point by point. This is beneficial to do alongside work as I don’t need to spend lots of time writing a big essay, and can take time to write up a paragraph once completing something I think would contribute to my units. It is a great way of demonstrating my skills as it has helped me put into words what I do in my day to day work and show evidence to back up my skills.

My assessor is very supportive and easily contactable if I need help or guidance in my units. I don’t feel nervous about submitting work as I know the feedback will be constructive and guide me in the right direction – it’s not a straight pass or fail like other qualification submissions I have done in the past. I feel I can talk to anyone in the college for support and advice about my role and my qualification.

I have found remote working strange as I have not met most of my colleagues in person. My work colleagues have been really supportive which has really helped me settle in.

Katie’s manager, Derek O’Sullivan who is Head of HR and People Development at the college, said:

Recruiting a modern apprentice opened up a new, different part of the labour market for the college and we received a large volume of very strong applications.

The team has really benefited from Katie joining us as she is motivated, dynamic and diligent in her work. She is keen to learn, and to share her experiences from other jobs and her education which means we all benefit from fresh ideas. Her enthusiasm contributes to a positive team dynamic. It is a commitment to take on a Modern Apprentice but the investment is very worthwhile.

Making the Young Person’s Guarantee a reality

In all economic recessions colleges provide a vital lifeline to thousands of young people (and adults) impacted by job losses.

Colleges have never been more essential for young people and West Lothian College will do everything it can to help make the Young Person’s Guarantee a reality.

A pedagogy-first approach to digital learning

Lockdown catapulted most colleges from exclusively face-to-face teaching to delivering all courses online.

No blend, just full-strength online delivery!

Lecturers, work-based assessors and trainers at West Lothian College threw themselves into remote delivery and worked hard to help students complete their qualifications online.

In a matter of days lecturers moved all learning resources onto Moodle and figured out which apps and digital tools they could master quickly to keep students engaged online and at a distance.

Work-based assessors switched from face-to-face delivery with employees in their workplaces to full virtual assessment customised for different industry sectors.

Trainers delivering learning to children’s hearing volunteers across Scotland created fully online courses as well as blended courses that used Zoom to simulate live children’s panels.

What did we learn?

What we learned from this experience has shaped what we are doing to support students this year. For example, our hair and beauty lecturers used Padcaster Studio to record demonstrations during lockdown that kept students engaged, and these are now being used in other curriculum areas for live streaming as well as recording and helping lecturers to reimagine how, for example, their students can compete in live skills competitions against other colleges across the UK.

Our lecturers live-streamed practical skills tasks performed by professional cookery students to enable them to compete in the British Student Culinary Competition 2020 via Zoom. The forty one awards achieved by our students were a testimony not only to their skills but to the creativity of their lecturers in designing such an excellent blended learning experience.

As colleges planned for return from lockdown, we were advised by government to adopt blended learning as the default, with the suggested blend being more online than on-site. JISC defines blended learning as providing “a combination face-to-face learning and dynamic digital activities and content that facilitate any time/any place learning.”

Done well, the blended approach combines the strengths of traditional face-to-face and digital teaching methods to give students a rich and engaging learning experience.

Like coffee, the strength of the blend often depends on personal taste and other ingredients in the mix. The stronger the online aspect of the blend, the more students need to have independent study and research skills, digital literacy, motivation and resilience.

One size definitely doesn’t fit all in a blended approach, and some courses have a stronger blend of face-to-face time on campus. This has focused on the delivery of practical activities that can’t be delivered online, for motivating and building relationships with students at risk of disengaging, and for supporting vulnerable students.

What helped?

Things we introduced prior to lockdown helped.

Our staff development week in August 2019 focused on digital skills for learning, with guest speakers and workshops on a wide range of tools and techniques.

A new learning and teaching innovation fund we launched last year paid for the introduction of a range of digital technologies for learning, like the Padcaster Studio mentioned earlier.

During lockdown, we ordered new laptops for all lecturers, upgraded our virtual learning environment and essential student systems, and provided access to training on digital skills for lecturers and other staff. We standardised on Microsoft Teams and Office 365 as our online platforms, mirroring what is used by all West Lothian schools.

As the top destination for school leavers in West Lothian, it is important that young people joining us use digital learning platforms familiar to them. Our excellent links with West Lothian Council and its digital learning team resulted in a dedicated member of staff is working with the college to connect our lecturers with resources available to teachers through Glow, Scotland’s digital learning network for schools.

How are we supporting staff?

Leadership in digital pedagogy is being provided by a cross-college group supported by a new post that has been filled by an experienced lecturer with expertise in digital pedagogy. The group has met every course team to understand their vision for blended learning, advise how to adapt their pedagogy to achieve that, and offer bespoke support to help them. They are surveying all staff to better understand their training and development needs in relation to digital skills, literacies and pedagogy.

Twice-weekly virtual drop-in sessions facilitated by our digital lead, and a staff learning academy on Moodle that hosts training materials on our digital platforms, are improving the confidence of lecturers. Demonstrating leadership of this pedagogy-first, digitally-confident approach all faculty directors and managers are completing the same training so that they are equipped to support lecturers.

An online community of practice to share tips and techniques is gaining momentum with those involved in the delivery of learning, teaching and assessment. Many are excited by the possibilities for adapting their practice to get the most out of the blended approach. Others are more reticent and we hope that the support put in place will build their confidence.

A very exciting next step is that the group will be reaching out to student representatives to find out what students need for digital upskilling. The staff academy on Moodle will be replicated for students, giving them access to many of the same training materials available to lecturers.

Pedagogy, Pedagogy, Pedagogy!

The vital ingredient for successful blended learning is pedagogy, a clear understanding of the place and purpose of digital tools in teaching.

Digital skills, digital literacies and digital confidence are essential for applying these tools effectively in learning and teaching.

As lecturers move towards registration with the General Teaching Council Scotland, the Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges set out the values, knowledge and understanding, and practice expected of those in the profession. Digital learning, technologies and literacies are woven into these standards.

The pandemic accelerated the use of digital learning, teaching and assessment in all education sectors, from a ‘fight or flight’ response when we were forced into lockdown to a more planned approach this academic year where the blend is through necessity more online than face-to-face.

Beyond these emergency years, we need to refine the blend for our students so that it is right for them.

Adopting a pedagogy-first approach will ensure that learning and teaching are in the driving seat and not the technology.

Food for thought

Students attending classes at West Lothian College will get a free hot breakfast so that they don’t have to start their day hungry.

In 2018, we introduced free soup and a roll at lunchtime for students so that no one went without food for the whole day. This followed feedback from staff and the Student Association that some students were passing out in afternoon classes through hunger because they couldn’t afford lunch! In recent months I received similar feedback about students in morning classes due to not having had breakfast.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has led to challenging times for students. Increasing numbers are struggling financially and students already experiencing poverty are finding it harder than ever before. Many have lost part-time jobs, some have partners who have been made redundant, and others are homeless.

We want to remove as many barriers to learning as possible so that our students can focus on achieving their qualification during the most challenging time they have ever had to face. I know that our free hot breakfast will be welcomed by students taking part in classes and workshops on campus. To avoid the stigma that often surrounds free meals, our existing soup offer and the new hot breakfast are available to all students. Students shouldn’t have to prove that they are hungry or that they can’t afford to pay for lunch.

One of the college’s strategic goals is to lead with vision and empathy. The way that our students and staff have supported people in communities across West Lothian throughout this pandemic is a great illustration of how that goal is being met.

On the last day of term before the festive break, our professional cookery students baked over a thousand mince pies that were included with Christmas meals delivered to families by The Larder, a social enterprise that provides hot meals to those in need. Our students also baked the contents for treat boxes that were delivered to local people through the Neil’s Hugs Foundation, the West Lothian Foodbank and Lanthorn Community Centre.

Our Student Association works with local charities and social enterprises in West Lothian to help students facing financial difficulties. In the lead up to Christmas they worked with The Larder and the West Lothian Financial Inclusion Network to provide hot meals to students and their families who were affected by poor mental health, poverty or Covid19.

For students with children, who faced additional financial pressures over the festive period, the Student Association accessed help from River Kids and West Lothian Financial Inclusion Network so that no child went without Christmas presents. And, with the support of the West Lothian School Bank, students were able to get school clothes for the new term for their children. 

Throughout the year, college support staff work with community partners like these to tap into resources that help students facing poverty and poor mental health. Outside of college our staff contribute in many ways to alleviate food poverty. Inspired by Marcus Rashford’s Feeding Britain’s Children campaign, one of our sports lecturers distributed over 2,500 meals to families through his football academy in the weeks before Christmas. Our IT manager played a key role in the Food and Dignity Box project, a partnership between Blackburn United Football Club, Community Action Blackburn, Youth Action Project and the Blackburn Family Centre.

Food is essential fuel for the body and the mind. Students need that fuel to be successful learners and no one should be at a disadvantage because they can’t afford to eat. That’s why we are using our own resources at West Lothian College, as well as those of public and third sector partners to provide food for thought for our students.

This article was first published in The Scotsman on 21 January 2021.

West Lothian College students graduate at home

The main event at West Lothian College in the last week of October 2020 was our Graduate at Home ceremony and, as principal of the college, I was delighted to take part.

It was more important than ever to celebrate this year’s graduates. They are the generation of students that kept going through a worldwide pandemic and a lockdown that closed society as we knew it. Overnight, they coped with a complete shift from face-to-face teaching to remote online learning. They achieved their qualification during the most difficult period that any of us has ever had to deal with.

To me, they are all superstars and we wanted to acknowledge that.

A combination of formal speeches, announcements of award winners, and warm messages from lecturers resulted in a lovely, uplifting event, captured in this photo of HND Business graduate Caitlin Jones-Bennett celebrating with her children at home.

Hundreds of graduates registered for the event, with 50 even ordering formal gowns to graduate at home! One of the consequences of an online graduation was that more people than normal were able to join in the celebrations as this tweet from a proud parent shows.

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Culture and Fair Work, announced the winners of Student of the Year awards and graduates and award winners were acknowledged in a parliamentary motion lodged by Angela Constance MSP.

The Student of the Year awards recognised students who, on top of their academic achievement, stood out through their commitment to the college, supporting others, or achieving additional skills from work experience or volunteering. Six awards were presented this year — five faculty Student of the Year awards, and one SQA Student of the Year award.

Faculty Student of the Year Awards

There were two winners of Student of the Year awards in the Faculty of Business, Creative and Enterprise.

Sarah Smillie, graduated with HNC Art, and produced exceptional work from the very beginning of her course and her portfolio was exemplary, showing creativity, flair, intelligence and skill. Sarah secured degree places at all four of the most highly sought-after Scottish art schools. She decided to take her studies forward at Edinburgh College of Art where this year fewer than 5% of applicants were successful in securing a place.

There were two Student of the Year winners in the Faculty of Care, Health and Sport.

Thomas Lawson, graduated with HNC Applied Sciences, and was an enthusiastic, insightful and a thoughtful contributor to his class, and progressed very well while managing other competing demands on his time. During experiments and in theory classes he showed an enquiring mind and asked searching questions. Keen to answer the why and how questions, he went further by exploring research being carried out in these areas.

Mark Taylor, graduated with HND Fitness, Health and Exercise, and led activity sessions with primary school pupils and secured a part time coaching job where he helps children to believe in themselves and gain confidence. As part of his qualification, Mark designed and carried out personal training sessions with older adults who have mental and physical disabilities. He established his own personal training business and helps clients reduce their risk of Covid19 through exercise, diet and weight management.

The Student of the Year Award in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment was presented to Scott Smith, who graduated with an HNC Cyber Security. As well as consistently submitting work of an extremely high quality, Scott went out of his way to help fellow students when they struggled with aspects of the course. He worked very hard as a member of the new West Lothian College Ethical Hacking Club where he brought forward lots of good ideas.

SQA Student of the Year Award

The SQA Student of the Year award was presented to Costica Darie who graduated with HNC Childhood Practice.

Costica joined the college three years ago as an ESOL student. Last year, he started HNC Childhood Practice with an aspiration to articulate directly into second year of the Primary Education Studies degree at Queen Margaret University.

In addition to his studies, Costica supported the college’s Men into Childcare campaign by facilitating workshops with third year school pupils who came into the college’s forest classroom for their outdoor learning experience.

This lovely film from Costica shows how much the college helped him achieve his goal https://www.dropbox.com/s/q3wb47tbc5gv5ar/Costa%20Video%20Message.MOV?dl=0. Costica was recognised in a parliamentary motion submitted by Neil Findlay https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5M-23245&ResultsPerPage=10MSP.

Congratulations to all special award winners. You are shining examples of the talent of West Lothian College students!

All graduation films are available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSIAAEOvZubVzQryawX3ms80J3KmkEJPP.

Colleges will help make the Young Person’s Guarantee a reality

Mass youth unemployment has featured large in my personal and professional life.

As a teenager, I was one of over a million unemployed young people in the 1980s. As a civil servant, I advised government ministers and worked with partners to design initiatives to tackle youth unemployment from 2008 to 2013. As the principal of West Lothian College, I am now focused on playing our part in implementing the Scottish Government’s young person’s guarantee to ensure no one is left behind.

Mass youth unemployment in the 1980’s

I was unemployed in the 1980s during a period of mass unemployment.

I tried hard to get a job, any job. With a good bunch of Highers I thought I would get something. But it was 1981, a time of high levels of youth unemployment set to become even worse. So, apart from the occasional short-term shop job, I signed on the dole for a big chunk of the early 1980’s.

At that time, government training schemes for the young unemployed like the Youth Opportunity Programme (YOP) and the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) were restricted to 16-18 year olds. I remember wondering about how little I was chased by the then DHSS (Department for Health and Social Security) to prove that I was actively seeking work. At the age of 19, it seemed that I was too old for the government to be concerned about! There were few jobs and efforts were focused on those young people eligible for YOP and YTS.

So, when the band UB40 (named after the Unemployment Benefit Attendance Card) released their debut album Signing Off in 1980, its iconic cover really resonated with me. And their 1981 single One in Ten summed up how I and millions of others felt during those dark years.

I am the one in ten, A number on a list
I am the one in ten, Even though I don’t exist
Nobody knows me, Even though I’m always there
A statistic, a reminder, Of a world that doesn’t care

In the mid-1980s, I decided to return to full time education and went to Glasgow College of Technology to study a degree in computing. I graduated, aged 29, just at the time of another economic recession! Too old to be considered by graduate recruitment schemes, I threw myself into applying for established IT jobs. Fortunately, I was successful.

Mass youth unemployment in the great recession

I worked in the Scottish Government when the financial crash happened and was asked to lead the skills response to economic recovery. My job was to collaborate with national agencies like Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and advise the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning on new initiatives.

The Scottish Government launched ScotAction in June 2009 — a skills support package for leading Scotland out of recession and on to economic growth. Additional funding was provided to colleges to support training for work, investment in apprenticeships supported training in work, and additional funding boosted partnership action for continuing employment, the national partnership approach to supporting redundancy, and supported people moving from one job to another as a result of redundancy.

Government funding for most of these initiatives was supplemented by the European Social Fund. Initiatives included Adopt an Apprentice which is still available today and provides £5,000 to a company that recruits a redundant apprentice.

When I joined the Scotland Office of the UK Government in 2009 my first task was to work in partnership with Scottish Government officials to arrange a collaborative national jobs summit addressed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the First Minister, the CBI chief executive and the STUC General Secretary.

Under the banner of Get Britain Working, the UK Government introduced the Future Jobs Fund in October 2009 — an employer recruitment incentive to persuade businesses to recruit unemployed young people. Lessons were learned from YOP and YTS – this scheme was open to 16-24 year olds. Sector based work academies, introduced in 2011, offered pre-employment training, work experience, and a guaranteed job interview.

Despite efforts from both governments, youth unemployment continued to rise to an all-time high of 21.9% in November 2011 when over a million young people in the UK were out of work.

Following my return to the Scottish Government in early 2012 I was asked to head up an economic recovery unit and lead on drafting Scotland’s first youth employment strategy, Action for Jobs: Supporting Young Scots into Work. Under the banner of Make Young People Your Business we created the Youth Employment Scotland Fund with Scotland’s local authorities to provide an employer recruitment incentive for companies recruiting a young person on at least minimum wage for six months.

Other initiatives introduced around that time included Community Jobs Scotland, an employability scheme funded by government and delivered by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations to support unemployed young people back into work by providing paid job training opportunities with third sector employers.

Scottish Ministers adopted a medium to long term approach to youth employment when they established the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce in January 2013. The Commission published its final report in June 2014 and all recommendations were accepted by the Scottish Government in December 2014 in its new youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce. This resulted in a seven-year national programme to develop Scotland’s young workforce.

Colleges offer a critical lifeline

In all economic recessions colleges provide a vital lifeline to many thousands of young people (and adults impacted by job losses).

On a personal level, returning to college in the mid-80’s after years of unemployment and low paid jobs enabled me to start my career path. At a professional level, I worked with colleges throughout my time as a civil servant to create positive opportunities for people affected by economic crises. When I left the Scottish Government in September 2013 to work at Ayrshire College I was proud to contribute to achieving the goals set out in the government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy.

In my current role as principal of West Lothian College I am proud of how we support young people and adults to achieve relevant qualifications and skills that prepare them for work, develop in work, and make transitions from one job to another.

In the Observer on 16 October, former prime minister Gordon Brown warned of “a Covid generation as desolate and as neglected as the YTS generation of the 1980s”. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen!

I don’t think it’s helpful for politicians and media commentators to refer to ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ generations. Today’s young people, more than ever before, need hope to get them through these unprecedented times.

The Young Person’s Guarantee is a positive pledge and I know that colleges across Scotland will help make it a reality.

West Lothian College students shine

At this year’s virtual graduation ceremony Fiona Hyslop MSP announced the winners of the West Lothian College Student of the Year awards.

These awards recognise students who, on top of their academic achievement, stood out through their commitment to the college, supporting others, or achieving additional skills from work experience or volunteering. There were six awards presented this year — five faculty Student of the Year awards, and one SQA Student of the Year award.

Faculty Student of the Year Awards

There were two winners of Student of the Year awards in the Faculty of Business, Creative and Enterprise.

Michael Allan, who graduated with HNC Events, volunteered throughout the year for all major college events including the hugely successful and innovative Interrupt19 digital conference. He assisted at The Gathering, the largest annual voluntary sector exhibition in Scotland. Michael set up his own events company this year and his talent was recognised nationally when he was shortlisted as a finalist in the Bridge to Business Young Entrepreneurs Award.

Sarah Smillie, who graduated with HNC Art, produced exceptional work from the very beginning of her course and her portfolio was exemplary, showing creativity, flair, intelligence and skill. Sarah secured degree places at all four of the most highly sought-after Scottish art schools. She decided to take her studies forward at Edinburgh College of Art where this year fewer than 5% of applicants were successful in securing a place.

There are two Student of the Year winners in the Faculty of Care, Health and Sport.

Thomas Lawson, who graduated with HNC Applied Sciences, was an enthusiastic, insightful and a thoughtful contributor to his class, and progressed very well while managing other competing demands on his time. During experiments and in theory classes he showed an enquiring mind and asked searching questions. Keen to answer the why and how questions, he went further by exploring research being carried out in these areas.

Mark Taylor, whograduated with HND Fitness, Health and Exercise, led activity sessions with primary school pupils and secured a part time coaching job where he helps children to believe in themselves and gain confidence. As part of his qualification, Mark designed and carried out personal training sessions with older adults who have mental and physical disabilities. He established his own personal training business and helps clients reduce their risk of Covid19 through exercise, diet and weight management.

The Student of the Year Award in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment was presented to Scott Smith,who graduated with an HNC Cyber Security. As well as consistently submitting work of an extremely high quality, Scott went out of his way to help fellow students when they struggled with aspects of the course. He worked very hard as a member of the new West Lothian College Ethical Hacking Clubwhere he brought forward lots of good ideas.

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SQA Student of the Year Award

The SQA Student of the Year award is presented to a student who has exhibited outstanding academic achievement over the year. This year’s award goes to Costica Darie who graduated with HNC Childhood Practice.

Costica joined the college a few years ago as an ESOL student. Last year, he started HNC Childhood Practice with an aspiration to articulate directly into second year of the Primary Education Studies degree at Queen Margaret University. He demonstrated determination and ambition to fulfil that aspiration.

His positive work ethic was reflected in the high standard and quality of his academic work and achieved an A in his graded unit during lockdown while home schooling his children. As well as studying the HNC qualification, he attended additional classes to achieve higher level communication skills.

In addition to his studies, Costica supported the college’s Men into Childcare campaign by facilitating workshops with third year school pupils who came into the college’s forest classroom for their outdoor learning experience. His contribution to this campaign was outstanding, as he was passionate and knowledgeable about the use of outdoors as a vehicle to engage young people in their learning. Costica is a natural role model and a great ambassador for raising awareness of the difference that men can make in early learning settings.

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Congratulations to all special award winners. You are shining examples of the talent of West Lothian College students!


Over 500 students graduated from West Lothian College this year.

Hundreds of new graduates with the skills, qualifications and knowledge that will make a difference to people’s lives, to communities, and to the economy at a local, regional and national level.

Here’s my Principal’s message to our Class of 2020.

Graduation is special, although it was very different this year. I loved sharing this celebration with you — even though I didn’t see you walk across the stage or shake your hand like I normally do.

Congratulations on achieving your qualification in the most difficult year that all of us have ever experienced. You made it through and should be very proud of yourself!

Sticking in at college and achieving your qualification was possible for many of you due to the support of those around you — lecturers and other staff at the college, family, friends, fellow students and your Student Association. I would like to acknowledge all those who supported you over the year.

However, you were the main reason for your success. You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You kept going when times got tough.

And, times got tough when the college and the whole country went into lockdown at a crucial time during your studies!

So, well done you!

Allow yourself time to reflect on how well you did in the most difficult of times. Be very proud of yourself and that qualification you now have.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, and we’re all learning as we go as we live through this global crisis that none of us was prepared for.

It’s likely that the pandemic has disrupted your plans this year.

While some of you have moved onto university, it’s probably not what you expected.

Many of you have come back to college to study at a higher level and are having a very different start to your course.

Some of you are in jobs, hopefully building towards the career you’re aiming for.

However, some of you might not yet be doing what you’d hoped for.

The year ahead is going to be a tough one for a lot of people and I want to share a little bit of my own experience when the odds were stacked against me.

I was out of work for a long time in the 1980s during a period of mass youth unemployment. After applying for hundreds of jobs without success, I channelled my energy into campaigning against injustice. This helped me cope with the soul-destroying effect of signing on the dole every week and receiving countless job rejections.

Although I wasn’t earning, I picked up skills from this experience that have helped me throughout my career including in my current job as Principal of West Lothian College. Skills like communication, managing with limited finances, and resilience.

When I look back over my career, every twist and turn and even the occasional dead-end led to new skills and insights into what drove me. And those insights led me to my next step which eventually led to this job.

My message is this.

Don’t despair if things don’t work out as you planned. Your education and skills are valuable and will count. You might hear politicians and the media talking about a lost generation, the Covid generation. Whatever you do, don’t give into this. You are not a lost generation!

You are part of the generation of students that kept going through a worldwide pandemic and a lockdown that closed society as we knew it. Overnight, you coped with a complete shift from face-to-face teaching to remote online learning! You achieved your qualification during the most difficult period that any of us has ever had to deal with.

So, if your plans don’t work out right away, build on your education by volunteering for something you care about, campaigning for something you’re passionate about, or learning new skills.

You’ve already demonstrated you can stick with it in the most difficult of times. You’ve shown that you’re able to adapt to unprecedented and dramatic change. That took some doing and I respect you for that. In fact, I can hardly find the words to express how proud I am of you.

Your determination and achievement should give you confidence in your ability to succeed in whatever you do next.

I’ll finish with a few words of advice.

Stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. This will help you get the most out of your career in this fast-moving, ever-changing world. Change will happen – be ready for it!

Build your networks. Connect with experts on social media to keep up-to-date with your specialism, seek advice and get yourself noticed.

Build your resilience. Sometimes in life and work things go wrong, so make time to keep yourself mentally strong. This will help you cope with any challenges you face so that you come out stronger.

Finally, in whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. This will make you a better student, a better employee and a better person.

Thank you for choosing West Lothian College. Everyone at the college wishes you success, fulfilment and happiness for your future, and we are all proud that you are a graduate of our college.

Principal Jackie Galbraith, Guest speaker Aidan Martin, and College Chair Alex Linkston

West Lothian College Ambassador Award presented to John McGee

The West Lothian College Ambassador Award recognises a person who has made a huge difference to our college over the year.

This award essentially gives that person lifetime freedom of the college.

This year, I was delighted to announce that the recipient of the West Lothian College Ambassador Award is John McGee.

Jackie Galbraith (Principal West Lothian College) and John McGee

About a year into my role as principal of the college, John contacted me to explore opportunities for working together. Since then, he has become a well-known figure on our campus.

He has shown unbounded enthusiasm, commitment and energy in his work with staff and students across the college, and he continually comes up with new ideas to support our students on their courses. 

He has a great understanding of our college and has been instrumental in increasing employer engagement in a range of subject areas to ensure that every student had a work placement included in their course. 

John is passionate about what work experience should look like and works closely with our staff to ensure that every placement is meaningful and relevant to our students’ chosen career path.

 When John speaks to students, his inspirational presentations are always pitched at the right level and allow plenty of time for questions. He has also mentored students, enabling them to benefit from his extensive knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm!

 Next year is the twentieth anniversary of our campus in Livingston. We have a lovely campus, but we’ve outgrown it as it now caters for double the number of full time students that it was designed for.

We have started a modernisation programme for a modern, innovative campus by 2025, and I asked John to work with me on ideas for expanding and improving our college estate.

He has been fantastically generous in letting us tap into his professional expertise on the use of space. For example, he has helped us make progress on expanding our engineering and construction workshop which will create a modern fit for purpose facility for next year’s students.

Everyone, including myself, who works with John is blown away by his passion, enthusiasm and capacity for generating ideas.

We are very privileged that our students, staff and college benefit from this.

For being an inspirational business leader, a caring and generous partner of the college, and a truly amazing friend to our students and staff, I am delighted that John McGee is now a lifelong West Lothian College Ambassador

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ADAmant that we will debug the gender gap in tech!

Ada Lovelace Day 2020 took place on 13 October and Scottish colleges like West Lothian College are ADAmant that we will attract more girls and women into science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM).

The following post is an extended version of one published by TES on Ada Lovelace Day this year.

Colleges across Scotland work with schools, employers and national organisations to raise awareness of opportunities for women in STEM sectors, encourage take-up of STEM courses by girls and women, and help students succeed on their courses.

Many people argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in STEM. With tens of thousands of high value, high quality jobs in sectors like digital and engineering, employers don’t just NEED women to fill these jobs, they really WANT them because of the skills they bring!

And, increasingly there are more diverse and equally valued routes to becoming a STEM professional – through college, apprenticeships and university.

But, we have a problem.

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, and the proportion of young women taking STEM subjects at school, college and university is stubbornly low. Incredibly, there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in computing and digital technology now than when I was a computing graduate 30 years ago!

Throughout history, women have played an important role in STEM. It’s important to recognise women from the past and present to stake our claim in this exciting world.

That’s why the corridor leading to West Lothian College’s cyber labs, which is covered from floor to ceiling with the history of computing, includes so many women who have been digital pioneers over the years.

Women like Ada Lovelace, the mother of programming born 200 years ago, who wrote the first ever computer programme 100 years before computers were even invented! Unlike her mentor Charles Babbage, whose analytical engine was the forerunner of the physical computer, Ada had the vision to imagine that a computer could create images and music, and not just do complicated sums.

Women like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville, born in 1780 who, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science, is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune. Mary was the young Ada Lovelace ‘s mathematics tutor and mentor.

Women like Florence Nightingale, well known for her dedication to injured soldiers during the Crimean War, but less famous for her mathematical ability. Florence’s analysis of large amounts of data, presented graphically, demonstrated that significantly more men were dying from preventable diseases in hospital than from wounds inflicted in battle. This led to the government allocating funds to improve the cleanliness of hospitals. Hundreds of years before the terms ‘big data’, ‘data scientist’ and ‘data visualisation’ became the latest big things, Florence was the real deal!

It is not just rich, privileged women who have made an impact over the centuries. Jeannie Riley, one of many Glasgow female munitions workers during the First World War, dreamed of becoming an engineer. Sadly, when Jeanie’s husband and other men returned from the trenches in France, the aspirations of Jeanie and of women like her were denied when they had to give their jobs back to the men.

Ada Lovelace Day is also about recognising today’s female pioneers.

Women like Toni Scullion, a multi-award-winning computing science teacher at a secondary school in West Lothian, and founder of dressCode, a charity that aims to attract more girls into computing. Her work in raising the profile of computing science as a subject at schools, and in helping to close the gender gap in tech has been recognised by many awards.

As a woman who started her career as an IT specialist in the mid 1980s, I’ve seen many cycles of campaigns to persuade women to choose computing and other STEM areas. Such are the odds stacked against them, most of these campaigns have been remarkably unsuccessful!

In the IT sector I chose to enter, the numbers of women choosing computing science went into freefall in the mid-1980s, the decline continued through the late 1990s when it levelled off, only to drop significantly again in the first decade of this century.

But we can’t give up!

Initiatives like Ada Lovelace Day are about celebrating pioneering women in fields like computing. More importantly, they are about stimulating interest in girls and women in careers in STEM industries.

Tomorrow’s women in STEM are the girls in today’s nursery, primary and secondary schools – some of whom are connecting to engineering, science, construction and technology through activities led by colleges like my own in partnership with DYW regional groups and organisations like SmartSTEMs.

At West Lothian College we are ADAmant that we will help to eliminate gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. And that we will encourage more girls and women to embark on exciting STEM courses and careers.

If you’d like to join us, please get in touch.

Your Voice, Only Louder!

On 16 June 2020 West Lothian College’s Board of Governors said farewell to our Student President and Vice President, Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds, who had just completed a two-term period of office.

Board members thanked Michelle and Gemma for their contribution to improving the quality of our students’ learning experience, for the support they had given to students experiencing poverty and mental health challenges, and for their contribution to Board meetings.

Michelle and Gemma took up their paid sabbatical posts at the same time I started as principal at the college in August 2018, and it has been a great privilege to work with such passionate and hard-working advocates of our students. It is impossible to sum up their significant achievements in a few paragraphs but I’ll try.

One of the things that stands out most for me was their commitment to acting on behalf of our most vulnerable students and initiating a range of measures to support them. The work they did to promote better mental health and wellbeing through initiatives like a welfare hub that provided hygiene products, personal care services and advice, a reduced-price breakfast and free soup and a roll, and arranging support from local mental health charities made a huge difference to the students who benefitted from these.

A highlight in 2020 was the campaign to tackle mental health stigma that they designed and delivered in partnership with social care lecturer Marion Darling and construction lecturer Bajiter Pall. Over 1,000 students took part in a wonderful awareness-raising event at which college staff and partner organisations offered advice and services.

Another significant achievement was the work they did through SPARKLE, our Student Association’s evaluation tool to engage students in assessing the quality of their college experience. Through this, they developed excellent relationships with lecturers, managers and support staff across the college with the objective of acting on student feedback. The improvements that arose from this are too many to mention, although it is worth noting that feedback from this process was instrumental in improving access to wi-fi and upgrading computers in classrooms.

Their work in building a strong team of volunteer ambassadors to act on behalf of our students through the SPARKLE process led to our Student Association being recognised by the National Union of Students (Scotland) as College Student Association of the Year in 2019.

Michelle and Gemma have left a significant legacy at the college. Student success increased over the two years and evaluative feedback from the Student Association contributed to that. Another highlight for me was how they worked in partnership with staff to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and the central role they played in our college being awarded LGBT Charter Silver Status in June 2019.

I am delighted (but not surprised) that Michelle and Gemma secured full time jobs just before their sabbaticals came to an end. What a testimony to their talent, experience and skills!

Michelle is now working with West Lothian Women’s Aid and Gemma with Loretto Care. I know they will excel in their roles and I’m sure that their new employers will realise very quickly just how great they are!

The voice of students matters, and an effective Student Association in a college is essential in making sure this voice is heard. But being heard is not enough. That voice needs to influence and shape college decisions on resources, delivery of learning and teaching, etc.

Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds achieved this. They more than delivered on the vision of the West Lothian College Student Association — to be the voice of students, only louder!

Growing and Diversifying the Early Years and Childcare Workforce

In the week before the country closed down due to the coronavirus, I spoke at a Scotland Policy Conferences Keynote Seminar on 12 March on Growing and Diversifying the Early Years and Childcare Workforce. The aim of the event was to discuss how to achieve the Scottish Government’s planned expansion of funded hours in childcare to 1,140 hours for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds by August 2020.

I was invited to provide a college perspective on how we are helping to achieve the government’s expansion targets. I illustrated the contribution of colleges by describing the partnership approach between West Lothian College and West Lothian Council. 

On 30 March, the Scottish Government announced that to enable local authorities to focus on their response to the coronavirus pandemic they will no longer be legally obliged to deliver 1,140 hours of funded childcare from August 2020.

Colleges are essential to delivering the expansion of the early years workforce

Scottish Government funded early learning and childcare is available to all three-and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds. Currently, 600 free hours are provided to each child per year. This was planned to increase to 1,140 hours from August 2020.

Colleges have already played a fundamental role in delivering the skilled workforce required to meet rising childcare places. This is shown very clearly in the following chart from Audit Scotland’s recent Early learning and childcare follow up report. As well as college enrolments, colleges deliver almost all foundation apprenticeships, many modern apprenticeships, and a large number of SVQs to employees in early years settings.

Growing the Workforce

Colleges have a long history of successfully delivering industry-relevant courses and producing work-ready graduates dedicated to giving children the best start in life. Colleges are able and ready to provide the current and future workforce with training, reskilling and upskilling to support the expansion.

To illustrate this in a local context, West Lothian Council currently employs 1,085 people in 64 early learning and childcare settings, and requires an additional 100 practitioners to deliver the 1,140 hours. A critical success factor in developing West Lothian’s workforce is the strong partnership working between the council’s early years development team and the college.

To support this growing demand, West Lothian College has increased the number of HNC Childhood Practice students from forty to over a hundred each year over the past five years.

The college provides a range of full and part time pathways for those not ready for HNC study including Social Care: Children and Young People Foundation Apprenticeship (Level 6) and Skills for Work Early Education and Childcare (Level 5) aimed at senior school pupils, Preparation for Childcare (Level 4), National Certificate Childhood Practice (Levels 5 and 6) and Men into Early Years (Level 6).

Childminders will be critical in delivering 1,140 hours of funded early years and childcare provision, giving parents more choice as they select the provider that best meets the needs of their family.

Building on strong links with the local Scottish Childminding Association, the college has provided play sessions for childminders and their minded children, which have been organised and led by students. These sessions offer a unique opportunity for childminders, students and lecturers to interact.

A pilot programme of work placements for HNC Childhood Practice students in the homes of childminders was very successful and the college hopes to develop this model further as the potential for childminders to deliver funded early learning and childcare widens.

West Lothian Council and West Lothian College will continue to support childminders’ professional development through a planned programme of networking and training opportunities.

At a national level, the Scottish Childminding Association chose West Lothian College in November 2019 as its preferred SVQ training provider. This endorsement means that childminders across Scotland will be signposted to the college to undertake their SVQ. 

Influencing Curriculum Design

Council practitioners are partners in the college’s curriculum development.

Annual joint planning meetings plan course content to meet the future needs of early years and childcare settings.  Specific units that best reflect the priorities of the local authority are included in courses, for example Supervised Toothbrushing, Paediatric First Aid, and Forest Kindergarten qualifications.

In autumn 2019, West Lothian College created an outdoor forest classroom in the woodland on our campus grounds. It was built using recycled materials like wooden pallets for seating and plastic tarpaulin sheeting for shelter, and features a mud kitchen and fire area.

All lecturers have undertaken the Forest Kindergarten Train the Trainers course, and this has been integrated into students’ courses. The college also enabled council staff to complete this training. Children from early years and childcare settings across West Lothian visit the forest classroom every week, providing excellent opportunities for our students.


West Lothian Council practitioners and college lecturers have access to each other’s professional development training and events. The college hosted the council’s Annual Early Years CPL conference for over 400 practitioners. In August 2019, West Lothian Council held an induction day for 200 newly appointed early learning and childcare practitioners. All HNC lecturers from West Lothian College attended the event, which was designed on the new National Early Learning and Childcare Induction resource.

The college supports the Forth Valley and West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative to support practitioners focus on learning and teaching practice that will improve outcomes for children.

All HNC and HND students are invited to interview for the Pupil Support Worker supply list, which means they earn and gain valuable experience while continuing their professional development.

Diversifying the Workforce

As part of the recruitment drive to attract more people to work in early years and childcare there have been significant efforts to encourage more school leavers and more men into the profession.

The Scottish Funding Council is supporting this through the Men in Early Years Challenge Fund, launched by the Minister for Children and Young People in October 2018.  Currently, just 4% of the workforce in Scotland is male and the fund was designed to increase the proportion of men working in early years and childcare.

West Lothian College and Inverness College were awarded funding and used this for pilot projects that focused on increasing applications from male students and retaining those students to complete Scottish Social Services Council registered early years and childcare qualifications. There have been promising results from both projects.

The short film below summarises West Lothian College’s approach to encourage male school students to think differently about careers in early learning and childcare.


While the Scottish Government and local authorities have understandably shelved the expansion for now,  they will reinstate the statutory requirement when the time is right and ensure that all eligible children can access 1,140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.

Colleges in Scotland, like West Lothian, will be ready to play a vital role in ensuring that there is a skilled workforce to realise this ambition.



Graduation is a special day and I was very privileged to be part of West Lothian College’s 2019 celebrations on Saturday 26 October. Sharing the success of our graduates rounded off a great year for the college. In 2018-19, we had the highest ever number of students and the best student results in over ten years. Here’s my message to this year’s graduates.

Congratulations on achieving your qualification!

Your success rounds off a very good year for West Lothian College. Our job at the college is to develop a highly skilled workforce and, looking at you today, tells me that we’re making great progress on that ambition.

I’m looking out at an audience with the skills, qualifications and knowledge that I know will make a difference to people’s lives, to our communities, and to the economy locally, nationally and internationally.

I see the early years professionals who will support our children in nurseries and primary schools.

I see the care practitioners, future nurses and social workers who will look after us in our communities, hospitals and care homes.

I see sport and fitness advisers who will help us have healthier lifestyles, and hair and beauty experts who will make us feel good about ourselves.

I see business experts and accountants who will become future managers and help run organisations more effectively.

I see artists who will create works of beauty that will inspire us, and events planners who will design events to entertain and excite us.

And I see engineers and technologists who will design, build and maintain the physical and digital infrastructure needed for life in the 21st century.

So, I’m very confident that we’re developing a highly skilled workforce. Every week I hear about the impact of our former students and I’ll share one example.

Last month, we held a major technology conference for 400 students in this same hall. It was sponsored by international tech company, Adobe. So, why did this California-based company give thousands of dollars to a college in Livingston in Scotland? Simple. Because they’re now benefiting from the talent of former HNC Computing graduate, Den Jones, who is their Director of Enterprise Security!

For many of you, sticking in at college and achieving your qualification was only possible because of the support of those around you – your family, friends and fellow students. Your lecturers, other staff at the college, and your Student Association also played a vital role.

Student President Michelle Low, Vice President Gemma Reynolds, and development officer Micole Cochrane did a tremendous job last year. I have never worked with such a caring, hard working and relentless student association team, and wasn’t surprised when the National Union of Students named them Student Association of the Year.

They worked tirelessly on your behalf all year, making sure that I knew about anything that could improve your experience at college. They encouraged you to share your views on what we do well and what could be better, and they shared your feedback with me. As a result, we made lots of changes.

What I hope you’ll take from this is that your opinion counts. What you think matters. Taking the time to tell us what you thought about the college led to real improvements that students this year are benefiting from. I’d encourage you to take every opportunity throughout your life to provide feedback on how to make things better. With the possibility of a general election soon, remember that you can make a difference by taking the time to express your views. You’ve made a difference here, you can make a difference in elections.

Take time out to be proud of yourself and that qualification you now have.

Don’t forget that you were the main reason for your success. You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You managed your way through any difficulties you faced. You kept going even when it got tough.

That determination and staying power should give you confidence in your ability to succeed in whatever you do next.

Today’s graduates are likely to have many career changes throughout their life. That might sound scary, but you can make these changes work for you.

Stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. This will help you get the most out of your career in a fast-moving world. Change will happen – be ready for it and learn to adapt.

Build your networks. Connect with experts on social media platforms like LinkedIn to keep up-to-date with your industry, seek their advice, and get yourself noticed for that dream job.

Build your resilience. Sometimes in life and work things go wrong – a bad boss, a problem at work, a family crisis, ill health. Invest time in keeping yourself mentally strong. This will help you cope with any challenges you face so that you come out of these situations stronger.

Finally, in whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. That way, you will be a better student, a better employee, a better manager, a better person.

Well done and thank you for choosing West Lothian College!

We’d love you to stay part of our family, so please keep in touch and let us know how you are getting on.


West Lothian College — a year in numbers

At this point in the college year, our priority is ensuring our students are settling well into their new courses. If you follow us on Twitter (@westlocoll) you will see many examples of how we’re achieving that.

We also reflect on the year that has just finished to understand how we can continue to improve our students’ experience of college. The following numbers present a high level picture of activity at West Lothian College in 2018-19.

Highest ever number of student enrolments at 8,988, up a thousand over the year

  • 2,171 full time and 6,817 part time enrolments
  • An increasing proportion of our full time students (90%) live in West Lothian
  • Half of our part time students live outside West Lothian

Increasing demand for courses

  • Overall steady demand for full time courses – stable for full time HE (higher education) qualifications, although declining for full time FE (further education)
  • Significantly rising demand for part time courses

Top destination for school leavers in West Lothian

  • 550 out of 1,905 school leavers chose West Lothian College making us the number one destination of all colleges and universities
  • The number of school leavers who chose West Lothian College was almost the same as the total number (552) who moved onto more than ten universities across Scotland
  • 72% of the 763 school leavers who moved onto college chose West Lothian College
  • Of those who didn’t 15% went to Edinburgh College, 4% went to City of Glasgow, 3% to SRUC and 2% to Forth Valley

School leavers represented a quarter of full time students in 2018-19, meaning

  • The majority of full time students were not school leavers
  • One third of full time students were over the age of 25
  • 60% of all students (including part time) are over 25

Increase in work-based learning

  • 1,205 employees in 26 companies in West Lothian took part in 127 courses through the Flexible Workforce Development Fund
  • We delivered over 900 SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications) to employees in 170 companies across Scotland

Continued growth in apprenticeships

  • We had nearly 300 modern apprentices in training, including 145 new starts
  • There were 171 foundation apprentices, including 95 new starts
  • An increasing number of students progressed onto graduate apprenticeships

We trained 2,215 Children’s Hearing Scotland panellists across Scotland

123 students and 34 staff took part in 18 Erasmus visits to 10 countries

Welcoming to all | Students at the centre | Always striving for better