Remember the C.S. Lewis classic, where the children climb through an ordinary wardrobe, and find a whole new land beyond? Or for a more modern (and less religious) take, Dr. Who’s Tardis, where a small antique Police Box appears to contain a vast Time Machine? I felt I’d had a rather similar experience today when I visited Moulton College in Northamptonshire (indeed in the Daventry constituency of my good friend Chris Heaton-Harris MP), at the invitation of the Principal, Chris Moody OBE.
Moulton College appears to be a delightful but not very large building on West Street, Moulton, a narrow village thoroughfare. Traditionally and pleasingly designed in mellow Northamptonshire stone, it looks older than its eighty or so years. The traditional air and relatively small scale are reinforced by the wood-panelled corridor to the Principal’s office.
So it came as a bit of shock to find that the College has three thousand students, a huge range of educational and commercial activities, and a 1200 acre site. Leave the reception building through the back, and you find yourself in a huge campus – and farm – with extensive teaching facilities, student accommodation, and all you’d expect to find in a University. And it has outlying campuses in Northampton, Daventry and Peterborough.
The College has three primary areas of activity: Agriculture and Countryside Management, which extends to Veterinary Health, Equine Studies, Arboriculture and Horticulture; Construction Services, encompassing interior design, carpentry, stone masonry and cabinet-making; and Sports Studies with Sports Medicine. Add a management centre, general education and teacher training, and you have a rich menu of activity and opportunity.
The College offers essentially vocationally-oriented education, and believes passionately that students need real, hands-on experience in real, operational-scale businesses. Accordingly it has a big range of real businesses on the premises. Much of the land area is devoted to farming, and there is a working garden centre (open to the public). There is a very successful Veterinary practice, (also open to the public), with state of the art video monitoring so that students can follow the progress of procedures and operations, plus a dog grooming studio, plus the extremely well-equipped equine welfare operation with surgical facilities. There is a livery stable and a large indoor school.
There are two substantial sports halls of an international standard where (for example) the England Hockey Team plays, plus extensive outdoor sports fields, with a variety of natural and artificial surfaces. The facilities are made available on a commercial basis to external organisations which can use them for training purposes.
The College eschews the “Six hours a week, Thirty weeks a year” teaching ethos of academe, and works more or less industrial hours. It recruits on interview, not exam results, so it caters for a wide range of abilities. It also has extensive facilities for disabled students. It expects high standards of work and behaviour, in high-quality surroundings.
Principal Chris Moody also believes that a College should have multiple income streams, which Moulton achieves through its commercial operations and engagement with external organisations. It has repeatedly been assessed as “ Outstanding ” by Ofsted. I believe that this model of high-quality vocationally-oriented education, financed by a multiplicity of funding streams, has key lessons for higher education. I shall certainly bring it to the attention of my colleague John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, Business, Innovation and Skills. Sounds like just his cup of tea.