Big year for new college principal

Jill Gray, principal at Blackpool Sixth Form College
Jill Gray, principal at Blackpool Sixth Form College
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Her latest role is head of a college in the town where she received her own further education.

Meet the new principal of Blackpool Sixth Form College – Jill Gray, who has worked in education for the last two decades.

Jill, a mum-of-two, knows the Fylde coast well. She studied hospitality management at Blackpool and The Fylde College.

She has always liked the resort because of “the friendliness and upbeat vibe of the place and the people”.

And once she had been shown around the Blackpool Old Road college, before her interview, she really wanted the role.

The 49-year-old said: “As soon as I arrived, the college felt so welcoming, so friendly and caring.

“It was really obvious the students are at the heart of everything the college does. That’s really important to me.

“Even on the tour, all the staff and students I met were lovely, and so warm and welcoming.

“I felt it was somewhere where the staff were very hard-working and passionate about education.

“The college has great facilities and it’s a real professional environment, like you would expect going into the world of work, with really good role models for the students.

“And I have so far found the college to be outstanding.

“I think sometimes Blackpool gets a bad press, but there is fantastic education here.

“And there are fantastic opportunities for young people.

“It’s so nice the things I liked about the college on my tour are the same things the students have mentioned when I have had meetings with them.”

Jill had spent 20 years previously at Runshaw College, in Leyland.

She started her career at the college – after studying there – and worked her way up through various roles, eventually becoming deputy principal.

At the college, she had a wide remit, with responsibility for Runshaw College’s extensive and highly successful vocational provision, marketing and schools liaison, support for students and safeguarding.

But education wasn’t a career Jill had always planned.

Her family ran a pub and restaurant in Croston for 40 years, and she had imagined going to work in the hotel industry and travel the world.

After she met her husband, she started working with her parents, and she really enjoyed the training aspect, training other people in how to do the work. She said: “One day I just went to enquire at Runshaw College about teaching courses and there was one starting the following week, so I enrolled.

“I did a six-week course, followed by a full-time course and started to look around for teaching posts and, literally as the course was finishing, I was offered some hours at the college.

“And I was there for 20 years.”

After starting as a teacher of tourism and hospitality, she moved into middle management in 1998, and senior management in 2008.

Jill is looking forward to an exciting future for Blackpool Sixth Form.

“The previous principal did excellent work and made massive improvements, so I am hoping to build on that.

“I am an Ofsted inspector on a part-time basis, so I can perhaps come in with a fresh pair of eyes and bring in some of my experience.

“The college really is in a great position, and I’m hoping we can build on that success.

“Of course, there will no doubt be challenges within the sector, such as funding and changing qualifications, but this is an outstanding college and we are going to meet each situation with positivity.

“We want our students to feel they have a good time and a good education.

“I love to see students in later years and hear about their successes and their lives.

“I would really like our students to feel Blackpool Sixth Form had a good impact on them and started them off on the next big step. I’m very much a people person.”

In her spare time, Jill loves spending time with family and friends – she has a son and a daughter, and is expecting her first grandson in a couple of weeks.

“It’s a big year for me, a new job, I turn 50 this year and am about to become a grandmother.

“And I am looking forward to getting to know Blackpool and the Fylde coast better, too.”