Meet the Assistant Principal – Ian Wilkins

Assistant Principal Ian Wilkins joined Heathrow UTC in April 2016.

Ian was initially appointed as the UTC’s Head of Engineering, along with some Assistant Principal responsibilities. Over time, he has become more focused on the latter, whilst still teaching Engineering to all year groups.

Prior to joining Heathrow UTC, Ian was Head of Department at another local secondary school, having completed his Masters in secondary education leadership and looking to broaden his career.

He said: “At that point, Design Technology (DT) was being diluted in the curriculum, which meant it wasn’t a standalone specialism anymore. An opportunity at Heathrow UTC arose as they were on the lookout for someone that could teach resistant materials and also had an interest in senior leadership. For me, it was a natural transition.”

Upon coming to the UTC to take a tour, Ian said: “I came in and looked around the engineering workshops and it was about four times the size of those I had previously worked in! I could see there was so much potential to do really exciting things here and with such impressive facilities.”

UTCs allow students to join aged 14, which was certainly a change for Ian, who had been used to traditional secondary schools: “A UTC is a more grown up environment for students, similar to the workplace. Yes, the students here are young, but you are able to have a more mature conversation with them and share a passion for the industry. I enjoy teaching KS4 and KS5; the students are the greatest asset to the UTC and I loved it from day one.”

Ian continues: “I hadn’t had the experience of teaching BTECs before Heathrow UTC. I had taught A-Level Engineering, alongside other subjects, but this was new to me. There had been a stigma attached to BTECs – that they were the easier route through. But actually, they’re not. Employers now recognise that if students can obtain a good grade in these, they have worked extremely hard for two years. It is unlike A-Levels, where it is possible to cram at the end and still get a good result. You need to work hard throughout.”

Growing up, Ian was always interested in teaching: “I have siblings who are quite a bit younger and I had always enjoyed teaching them and taking them through their early years education.”

“When I was in Year 9 at school, I realised I wanted to go into teaching but had changed schools to one which hadn’t really rated their sets, meaning I started off being bottom set for everything. It was my DT  teacher (and Geography teacher) that recognised I had potential and I started moving up. I had always liked DT but partly because of this role model I had as a young person. I then wanted to become a DT teacher.”

“I finished school and embarked on a Civil Engineering course at University. It wasn’t what I wanted to do so when I finished, but graduated with an honours degree, I looked at the options available to me if I wanted to stay on and found a Teacher Training course. When I found out I was quite good at it, I pursued the DT teaching route.”

“Looking back, it was my teachers Mr Steel and Mrs Booth that led me in the right direction. Without those role models, my life could have been very different.”

Ian says patience and consistency are key to being a good teacher.

“Being patient is number one. You have to take the students along with you and not leave them behind. Subject knowledge is important but you can learn subject knowledge. You don’t learn patience. You also need to understand how to convince students that they want to work for you and build those relationships, and find out how to motivate them.”

“It is also important to be consistent. If students recognise how you behave as a teacher, they understand how you want them to behave. If you’re not consistent, it can send out mixed messages.”

Recognising the challenges in education, in particular in schools, Ian said: “Every day is a new challenge. If you are made aware of difficult situations in a student’s home life, it can be hard to remain emotionally distant, but you have to remain calm.”

“Also, exam times bring its challenges, as it puts pressure on teachers, as well as students. Again, you just have to be calm, relaxed and be able to unwind at home – that’s important”.

Reflecting on some of the highlights at his time at Heathrow UTC so far, Ian said:

“It was the end of my first year here and I had never really been involved in the final days of UCAS and students going to university. On this particular occasion, there were two students who received their results and came into the UTC distraught, because they thought they hadn’t got into university, as they hadn’t quite got the grades they had hoped for. After calling the universities, we managed to get them places and it was one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me.”

“Today I met with two parents and they were describing how their son has become a different child since joining the UTC and were truly grateful to us for this. I remember his interview last year and talking to him, and then seeing him become one of the members of the winning Royal Navy challenge team this year! That was brilliant for us to watch.”

It seems the draws of teaching at a UTC far outweigh the challenges that the education sector brings…

“I’m always learning from other teachers. Some of the qualifications we teach are very maths heavy, and that has given me the chance to improve myself. Today, I finished and submitted my NPQSL. As a school, we allow teachers to be learners as well.”

“I do this because I love teaching. I am a senior leader at the UTC but I never want to be in a position where I am not in the classroom. It is the biggest buzz I get. When I see my students understand a concept and that light switch turn on in their brain – it’s moments like these that I live for. That’s why I’m a teacher.”