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Positive Partnerships: Darlington College

Lucy Scott
5 min read

Darlington College is a further education institution in North East England, specialising in vocational training. Founded in 1897, this state-of-the-art teaching facility is firmly focused on the needs of its student community. Claire Hankey, Darlington College’s Marketing and Engagement Manager says, “Our main ethos is to be at the heart of our community, to ensure we’re giving people the skills they need – skills that will help grow the economy of Darlington and the local area by delivering vocational training and apprenticeships for people aged 16 and up”.

Their qualifications range from Entry to Level 7 and include a wide range of vocational skills courses and apprenticeships. The college caters to NEET learners (Not in Education, Employment or Training) by helping them reengage with vocational opportunities. And in order to facilitate an environment in which students can flourish, staff wellbeing is also a key priority; the college makes sure everyone works together as a team – not in silos – and looks out for each other.

All this has a knock-on effect to the student experience. Paula Willis, Darlington’s Curriculum Manager Business, Digital, Travel and Tourism, Teacher Training and Professional Skills, says, “A lot of people who come here comment on the positive atmosphere, and how articulate, friendly and welcoming our students are – including the way they acknowledge visitors and answer their questions – which is really good, especially from our 16-18 years olds!” It’s clear the college is approaching education in the right way.

So why does a successful FE college need an online training partner?

Cast your mind back to 2021. Following a global pandemic and three lockdowns, online learning had proven its worth – and Darlington College was keen to expand its offering in this space.

Having secured funding through the strategic development fund (SDF), the college sought an online learning partner to design and develop a series of proprietary level 3 courses on Sustainability in HR. As this was fast becoming a hot topic, the courses had to be high-quality and produced quickly, to match increasing demand from students and apprenticeship employers.

“After a rigorous selection process, we chose Staff Skills Training to be our online training partner. We awarded their tender 98/100, based on a combination of factors, including their proven experience in education, the extensive range of courses in their content library, and the level of granular analytics provided by their LMS – plus the ability to easily create groups for specific learning requirements,” says Mike Chapman, Assistant Principal at Darlington College.

Why offering different learning styles is key to student engagement

Catering to different learning styles was a key requirement for the college. “We didn’t want students to just watch a video or answer some questions – we wanted courses to be as interactive as possible, to motivate and engage learners so they didn’t switch off,” says Paula. Staff Skills Training’s solution incorporated a mix of elements, including video, text, downloadable worksheets, and interactive games. As Claire says, “Everybody has a different learning style, so it was important we made sure all needs were met.”

“We always strive to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, so our students can flourish in their chosen vocations. That’s why the variety of learning styles offered in Staff Skills Training’s solution were so popular back in 2021 and continue to be relevant today,” says Mike.

How CPD-certified courses benefit students, staff and employers

Darlington College’s administrative and support staff also benefit from Staff Skills Training’s content library of 700+ CPD-certified courses. These cover everything from mandatory training to performance development and lifestyle courses. As Paula says, “Lots of our staff use the platform to upskill or refresh their existing knowledge on an ongoing basis.”

The college places high importance on CPD certification. “It’s really important to keep you abreast of what’s happening in your industry, to stay motivated and engaged, and keep challenging yourself,” says Paula. Claire agrees, “Everything in the vocational space is so fast-paced and fast-moving – how can we teach something if we don’t know the most up-to-date information?”

Students and employers benefit too. The college provides CPD support to apprenticeship employers across various sectors, including manufacturing, catering, IT and customer services. And students in apprenticeships can upskill quickly and easily too. “We give them access to relevant courses remotely so they can meet the needs of their employers – and make sure they continue to have the right knowledge, capabilities and skillsets for the job,” says Paula.

The importance of accountability in online learning

A crucial element of online learning is being able to monitor a student’s learning progress. Using Staff Skills Training’s reporting system, the college can track and report individuals’ hours and outcomes.

“This means we can see how much time they’ve spent on their courses – and that they haven’t just logged on and quickly worked their way through, because that wouldn’t add any value,” says Paula, “It’s important for the assessment side of things as well: they’ve got to show knowledge and understanding – otherwise what’s the point of doing it?”

Continuing to meet the ever-changing needs of today’s learners

Working in the education sector can be challenging. It’s a constant juggle of ever-changing regulations, funding structures and student needs. However, it can also be hugely rewarding.

“We see so many learners who’ve changed their lives by coming to Darlington College. From 16-year-olds who are just starting out, to adult learners who never expected to re-enter education ending up getting promoted into much higher roles or even starting whole new careers. There are so many inspiring stories; that’s what I love about it,” says Claire.

Looking to the future, the college will keep putting the needs of its community at the heart of everything it does. Staff Skills Training’s platform plays an important part in delivering this goal, with courses being reviewed and updated regularly to ensure they continue to meet students’ ever-changing needs over time.

“We really appreciate all Staff Skills Training’s time and effort over the past few years. The resources look great – they are very professional – and the management of the process has been first rate throughout,” says Mike.

Staff Skills Training is proud to partner with Darlington College. If you work in the education sector and are looking for an online training partner, we’d love to hear from you. You can have a look and see what we do, get in touch with us at or book a call with one of our team today.


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