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Former apprentice returns to mentor new generation of apprentices

A County Durham woman who started her successful graphic design career at a Sunderland training centre, has returned 12 years later to be the teacher instead of the apprentice.

Rachael Towers, 29, from South Hetton, was just 16 when she studied for an apprenticeship at Springboard Sunderland Trust in Pallion. And after over a decade working in the design industry she has returned to her former training provider to teach the new generation of apprentices how it’s done.

Rachael saw the job for a digital print tutor at Springboard advertised on the internet and knew she had to apply because she still credits her apprenticeship for giving her the head start she needed to pursue her dream job and she wanted to give something back. She said:

“I told Springboard in my interview that I learned more on my apprenticeship about design than I did in my subsequent degree course. It’s true because you learn so much more when you’re doing it hands on and getting that real work experience.

“I wanted to give something back to new apprentices coming through because I’ve been there and done it and I want others to experience what I have.”

Springboard, which is a long standing member of professional body North East Learning Providers, offers apprenticeships and personalised study programmes in a variety of vocational areas.

Springboard’s Denise Wilson, said: “Not only was Rachael the best candidate for the job, she also brings something else to the role which is a complete understanding of what young people need to develop to be able to do well in the design industry.

“We not only focus on developing vocational skills at Springboard, but we also help our learners develop as people.

“It’s fantastic to have Rachael back.”

North East Learning Providers (NELP) is a confederation of training providers which deliver work based learning. NLP is a not for profit organisation. For more information and how to join go to

NELP invests in video to help members prosper

Sixty North East training providers are set to benefit from an investment in new software that will improve their teaching and help them get ahead of their competitors.

The region’s largest network of training organisations, North East Learning Providers (NELP), has teamed-up with Newcastle-based company VEO to offer its members free use of Video Enhanced Observation.

The VEO app allows teachers and trainers to record videos of their lessons on a tablet or smartphone, then tag, review, highlight and share best practice and areas that require improvement.

The move is in response to changes in the further education sector which has seen funding decrease and an ever-increasing pressure to demonstrate continuous improvement in the quality of its teaching to the Skills Funding Agency and Ofsted.

NELP member, Barnardo’s Employment Training and Skills, based in North Tyneside, is one of the first NELP members to use VEO. Their head of operations, Geoff Mount, explains more:
“We are part of a national group and using VEO has allowed us to work more efficiently and learn from each of our peer organisations, without the need for meetings and endless form filling.

“Previously, teaching observation was very subjective – it was an observer sat in a lesson, filling in forms and giving their opinion. VEO is much more sophisticated and objective – a number of assessors can review performance now, including the teacher involved – it’s more accurate, transparent and reliable.

“VEO is an unrivalled tool for improving teaching quality and I’m delighted that NELP has invested in it for its members. Anything like this that helps drive-up performance is very welcome.”

NELP executive officer, David Baker said: “By investing in VEO we are making sure our members are best placed to be the best training providers in the region. Some of our members may not have been able to afford to access VEO, otherwise.

“This is another example of why being part of a network like ours is so worthwhile.”

VEO was developed by entrepreneurs Jon Haines and Paul Miller at Newcastle University in collaboration with schools and teachers worldwide, to create a smart, cost effective, easy to use system that helps educators improve quality and performance.

The online portal acts as a social network between trainers to enable best practice to be shared and developed with ease. Teachers also own their video/data portfolios and their CPD.

Pic: Geoff Mount from Barnardo’s Employment Training and Skills.

Washington hairdresser and TV star hopes to highlight her potential

Still flying-high after reaching the finals of BBC TV contest Hair, trainee north east hairdresser, Meggan George, hopes to be a cut above the rest at a hair styling competition next month.

The twenty-one year old from Washington hopes the experience she gained in the BBC challenge will help her win 1st Degree Training’s annual competition on 6 September. Meggan is training to be a hairdresser through the firm, which helps young people earn qualifications whilst working.

Meggan said: “1st Degree Training is amazing and have helped me a lot. Previously I’ve been to two other colleges and felt like I wasn’t learning, but I can’t fault 1st Degree.”

1st Degree Training is a member of North East Learning Providers (NELP), which is a network of organisations that deliver work-based training to young people and adults across the region.

Speaking about the competition, Meggan added: “I’m so excited! There’s different rounds and I’ve been preparing for a few weeks.”

Meggan recently starred in the BBC TV series ‘Hair’, which aimed to find Britain’s best amateur hair stylist. Although Meggan didn’t win, she did make the final five, and hopes her experience will help her in 1st Degree Training competition.

She added: “I feel like I have a second chance to redeem myself and show people what I can really do. I want to win more than anything and I’m a lot more prepared than I was for Hair.”

Meggan’s entering the colour, cut, bridal and photography rounds, and says she wants to concentrate on styles that she didn’t do on the BBC series.

Managing Director of NEETA, which owns 1st Degree Training, and vice chair of North East Learning Providers, Susan Briganti, said: “Our annual hair styling competition is always an exciting event but this year there’s an even bigger buzz about it because Meggan has shown the whole country how skilled she is, so she’s seen as the one to beat.”

The competition will be held at Wallsend Memorial Hall and over 50 learners will be taking part.

North East Learning Providers (NELP) is a network of local training providers. Members include independent training providers, colleges, employers, local authorities and voluntary organisations that operate within Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Sunderland and South Tyneside. It aims to promote, represent and support its members and the training sector as a whole.

NELP works closely with the training sector’s funding bodies including the Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service. Its members deliver vocational training for hundreds of employers and thousands of learners throughout the north east region.

NELP is a not for profit organisation. For more information about NLP and how to join go to

NELP member Springboard hits major milestone


Helping 35,000 young people improve their lives and surviving four whole decades in the UK training sector is no mean feat but one of our longstanding members, Springboard, has made it look easy.

It was 1975 and Queen were topping the charts with Bohemian Rhapsody when Springboard first opened its doors. The Trust started out in 1975 in a basement in Toward Road in Sunderland with a handful of staff and a turnover of £200k.

Forty years on, the organisation has a turnover of £7m, 100 employees, and 12 training centres in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Peterlee and Hartlepool.

The catalyst for Springboard Trust being set-up was a government report that revealed 54% of Wearside youngsters were unemployed and 48% had no qualifications. The Trust was originally a joint initiative between Sunderland Social Services and national volunteering provider, Community Service Volunteers.
The organisation offers personalised training programmes, mainly in child and elderly care, as well as technical skills and community development. Its mainstream programmes are study programmes and apprenticeships.

Looking back, Springboard secretary and NELP treasurer Denise Wilson, says: “I think it’s our focus on not just developing vocational skills, but helping our learners develop as people that has been our key to success.
“We have seen some major changes in the training sector during our time and have outlived a raft of government funding agencies but being part of North East Learning Providers has helped us navigate through some challenging times in the industry.”

Springboard is a long standing member of professional body, North East Learning Providers, having joined in 2001.

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