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Exciting times for City of Wolverhampton College

By Heather Large | Wolverhampton | News | Published:

When Claire Boliver joined the ranks at City of Wolverhampton College four years ago, she admits it was in a 'dark place'.

It had fallen into financial difficulties, the quality of some of its courses was deemed not up to scratch and staff morale was low.

But since then the 54-year-old, who is now at the helm as principal, has helped to spearhead a major transformation of its fortunes.

The college is now rated as 'good' with many 'outstanding' features after been branded 'inadequate' by Ofsted in 2012, its finances have been brought back under control and staff have won awards for their programmes.

This summer saw the college record its best ever A-level results while a £40million plan to move its main campus into the heart of Wolverhampton to improve the facilities on offer as part of a new city centre 'learning quarter' is also in the pipeline.

Mrs Boliver, who joined as deputy principal in 2013, said she believes there is now a bright future ahead for the college, saying it has put its troubles well behind it.

"The college has been on such a long journey since I came here four years ago. It was in quite a dark place in terms of its quality and finances.

"It had been a good college but then it lost it's way and crashed and burned. Staff morale was low because nobody wanted to work at a college that was perceived to be a failing college.

"In the early days we were firefighting but after two years of firefighting we achieved a lot in a short space of time. Now it's a good college again.

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"The quality has improved. I'm excited that we can now look forward. There are a lot of positive things on the horizon," said Mrs Boliver.

One of the priorities for the team, which earlier this year won an Association of Colleges (AoC) award, is to push forward with moving from the existing Paget Road site and into Wolverhampton city centre.

It follows the Department for Education’s Black Country Area Review, which last year criticised Paget Road as being dilapidated and too far away from the city centre.

The college management recognises the need to upgrade its facilities and provide a modern campus that is more accessible to it's students.

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"We look at colleges around the Black Country and they've all got new, shiny buildings but Wolverhampton hasn't been able to achieve that," said Mrs Boliver.

Speaking about Paget Road, she added: "It can be quite a trek for students to get here especially if they live on the opposite side of the city. They have to come into the city and then out again so being in the centre of the city will be more accessible."

The new £40m campus will see the college's existing Metro One site in Bilston Street extended in an area around the old Faces nightclub and include the adult learning campus and Central Library.

The latter would continue to serve the public but would also provide resource facilities for college students with a new walkway connecting the buildings on the site.

Architects have been appointed to start the design process and funding will be in place with some of the cash coming from the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, City of Wolverhampton Council and proceeds from the sale of Paget Road once they have vacated the land.

Mrs Boliver said the aim was to be able to open the doors of the revamped campus to students by September 2019, adding: "There is going to be a mixture of refurbishment of existing buildings and new build on the site."

"It's really going to be an exciting project and a great addition to the city."

She hopes it will also lead to the college,which already has around 10,000 learners each year, attracting more students through its doors and into higher education.

At the same time the team will be continues its efforts to build on the improvements it has made during the past four years. "We are a good college with outstanding features - we want to be an outstanding college," said Mrs Boliver.

For the principal , who had previously worked at South Staffordshire College for 26 years, her biggest consideration each and every day is the students.

"I've been working on the sector for 31 years and the students are the best part of my job. That's why I get up in the morning. When I returned from holiday I had a letter from a parent saying what a difference we had been able to make the life of their child. We make a difference here," she said.

"Our biggest priority is student success - making sure every student that comes into the college is successful," she added.

"If we are talking about any decision, we always ask is it going to have a positive impact on the students? If the answer is no, then we don't do it. We have to put the students first.

"We have a lot of adults here, a lot of 19 and 20-year-olds who have left school a few years ago and we have young fathers who have had children and then come back to education.

"We are often people's last chance so we want to make sure we give them the best chance," said Mrs Boliver.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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