An outstanding Ofsted report and record crowds at the open day have given the new principal of Plumpton College good reason to love his job.
Jeremy Kerswell took over as principal in October 2015 and on Saturday (May 14) he saw more than 15,000 visitors take in the sights and learn about the courses on offer.
Mr Kerswell said: “The event is always a superb way to showcase the incredible diversity of courses the college offers.
“Staff and students are very proud of their achievements and the result shows in the attractive estate, the impressive student facilities and our successful courses ensuring highly skilled graduates suitable for successful employment.”
Another thing that is impressive about Plumpton is Mr Kerswell’s dedication to his students.
He is keen to shake off the perception youngsters taking land-based studies are not as academically capable as their peers – an attitude he felt went back to the days when “people thought that working on the land was for people with strong backs and big hands”.
I’m in the enviable position of almost being handed something perfect just to be able to take it on to its next stage.Jeremy Kerswell, Plumpton College principal
Mr Kerswell said: “I’ve been surprised that the rural community of East Sussex wasn’t a bit further forward in its thinking around the unfortunate perception that land-based education is for people who are not capable of doing A-levels or higher education.
“We need to continue to challenge that stigma.
“The industry is becoming more advanced and higher level than before. So it needs more highly skilled people than ever before.”
To meet those needs, the college has introduced new courses and training programmes to cater for a highly skilled workforce, including the Foundation Degree in creative metalworking, a Masters programme (MSc) in viticulture and oenology, and the new Foundation Degree in urban horticulture.
Mr Kerswell said: “The technology is incredible. Not only does the industry need more people than ever before but the opportunities are better than ever.”
Those opportunities include courses in agriculture, animal care and veterinary nursing, countryside and gamekeeping, fishery management, forestry and arboriculture, horticulture, welding and jewellery making.
And then there’s the wine!
Plumpton is Britain’s Centre of Excellence in wine education, training and research, and is the only higher education institution to offer undergraduate degrees in wine business and production in English in Europe.
The college produces 30,000 bottles of wine per year from its vineyard and has six varieties including an award-winning sparkling wine called The Dean. Plumpton will be co-host of the first International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, from May 26-28.
When it came to the job prospects of his students, Mr Kerswell’s pride was obvious.
He said: “If I could shout it from the rooftops I would - 100 per cent of agriculture students get jobs. We can’t keep up with the demand. I just spoke to a farmer in Essex who is farming 12,000 acres and is desperate for new entrants.”
Jeremy Kerswell is very much a local boy. He grew up in Faygate and attended Forest School, in Horsham.
He served as assistant principal at another land-based college, the Cannington Centre, in Somerset, and said his role at Plumpton had felt like something of a homecoming.
Not that being a first-time principal was easy.
Mr Kerswell said: “It’s been a baptism of fire. Nothing can prepare you for it.
“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked for some inspirational leaders in my time but, despite all the things those people tell you, nothing can prepare you. But it has been fabulous.
“I’m very fortunate I’ve inherited a college that’s been well managed and has a very firm foundation in terms of its reputation with the industry.
“I’m in the enviable position of almost being handed something perfect just to be able to take it on to its next stage.”
That next stage could include expansion of the residential unit, which already houses more than 200 students.
Mr Kerswell said: “We’re not far away from a formal planning application.”
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