Villiers Park Educational Trust is delighted to welcome Rae Tooth as its new Chief Executive Officer. Before we could set her to work, we arranged for Rae to meet Hastings and Bexhill Scholar, Sadie, via Skype. Sadie had a few questions up her sleeve for our new CEO so that everyone can get to know her a little better... Congratulations on being the new CEO! You studied at Cardiff University - what was your university experience like?
I loved my university experience. I did journalism, film and broadcasting because I wanted to be a journalist. The studying was amazing and I was in a community of people who were really excited about learning. I became Women's Officer, I got involved in clubs and societies and did lots of campaigning, those things were probably the most impactful for me. How do you use your degree in day to day work?
I use it loads. I learnt how to communicate well, how to influence the people, and how to work in a political environment. All those things are really key to being an effective CEO. What are your biggest achievements?
When I was Women's Officer for NUS Wales, running campaigns across all the universities and Further Education colleges in Wales (which remains my favourite job of all time!), I ran a campaign for essays to be marked anonymously on all courses because there was a difference in marks between male and female students. When universities introduced anonymous marking, women's results went up by an average of 15%. Wow! That's crazy.
It was a very simple change in terms of how universities ran, but the impact it had for female students - and also black and ethnic minority students - was huge. It certainly levelled the playing field and meant people were being marked for what was on the paper. What about your other achievements?
I worked for the Higher Education Funding Council and set up the National Student Survey. It meant students have a much stronger voice and can influence how their Uni is run. At the Office for Fair Access I developed the National Strategy for Access and Student Success, making sure people from disadvantaged backgrounds had equal access to Higher Education and then I went on to set up the Office for Students which is the new Higher Education regulator. So you went from journalism to Higher Education policy - how did you make that change?
I was interested in journalism because I wanted to shine a spotlight on inequality. I wanted to use that spotlight to make a change for the better. In my early career, when I looked at people who in their day to day lives were experiencing all kinds of discrimination, the people who were most damaged by that were people who weren't well educated. It seemed obvious to me that the key to social change is to make sure everybody had access to good education.
I agree! You are clearly very passionate about education. Why do you think it's so important?
When you are educated you are able to make good choices for yourself about your own life. Education gives you control and power, it doesn't protect you from bad stuff happening - bad stuff happens to everybody - what it does is it gives you tools so that you can navigate around those obstacles and recover quicker from the setbacks we all experience in life. Education also increases your chances of being successful in life, and gives you more opportunities to be a leader in your chosen field. I agree! What do you hope to achieve in this new role of CEO?
Clearly I want to directly improve what happens for the young people we work with. That's about improving what we are already doing and growing it so we can work with more young people than we do at the moment - I have big ambitions! There is another piece of work that goes hand-in-hand with that. We work with young, highly intelligent people who are passionate about the world they live in, we must use that passion to influence education policy and practice and make sure everybody has access to high quality education, and is able to fulfil their potential .
Do you think there will be many challenges?
We are a charity and we are hugely reliant on very generous donations from people who recognise the value of our work empowering young people to succeed. Ensuring that we have enough funds to keep delivering this work is always a challenge. Do you think the Scholars could be more involved within the programme itself?
Absolutely. I'm interested in making sure that the students that benefit from Villiers Park are able to have opportunities to meaningfully shape the way that we work and what we do. How else do you want to improve the Scholars Programme?
The Scholars Programme is one of our flagship programmes, it's very highly regarded and makes a big difference to the exam results students achieve and where they go to university. I want to focus on how we get more students onto the programme. That said, if you have ideas for improvements, I'm always happy to hear them! Well, it's funny you say that - what about a Villiers Park podcast? It could be about Scholars, different areas, their opinions of the programme, focus on other things like courses, life and applications etc.
I'd like that a lot, it sounds really good, listeners could get a really good feel of what it's like at Villiers Park. I think we should do it! Will you run it for me? Yeah ok! With the new podcast all agreed, the interview was over and it was Rae's turn to ask Sadie some questions...
Why did you decide to join the Scholars Programme?
I was nominated by my school, but after the induction day where we spent time with other nominated Scholars and met our learning mentors, it seemed like such a good opportunity and stupid not to join! The support within my school was so useful and I particularly utilised it over my GCSEs, so I continued it when I moved to college. How do you think the Scholars Programme will make difference for you?
I think I'll feel a lot more confident within myself. Particularly with things like my personal statement, having mock interviews for university and having the knowledge and confidence that I'm doing things right. That makes a big difference. Do you know where you're going to apply and what you want to do?
No. I want to apply to Oxbridge, but I don't know what to study. I think I want to go into politics, history or archaeology... but I've also got interests in languages. I've got ideas! How is your learning mentor helping you?
GCSEs are very stressful obviously, and I'm quite an over thinker so having someone to go and talk to who can help rationalise your thoughts is very useful. It's just nice having someone there; and they help with the Skills4Success like confidence, time management and helping me create revision schedules that work with my other commitments. As part of the INVOLVE programme you set up a feminist society in your college - what were your ambitions?
Within our school, my friends and I on the Scholars Programme started a feminist society to talk about issues and being able to hold debates. We wanted to make people more aware of feminism and what it is. Within teenagers there's definitely a stereotype of feminists as crazy, man haters and so we wanted to destroy that stereotype in school and explain that feminism is for equality and not for women being over men and I think we did that. A lot of people in the school now know what feminism is and a lot of boys came and joined the society after a while, so it shows it's more for equality and just for women. It was successful. That's fantastic! I am really glad that there is a new generation of feminists, it sounds like some of the challenges I faced as Women's Officer are still an issue today. Thank you for chatting with me, and good luck with your mock exams this week!
We will be running a pilot of the Villiers Park Scholars Podcast, with Sadie leading the project. Watch this space.