Stefan Hagan- The Digital Age, UCAS, Law
In this episode of College in Conversation we spoke to Stefan Hagan. A Business teacher, UCAS Co-ordinator and Director of Digital Learning at Lingfield College.
Learn about Stefan's life before teaching, what made him enter the educational sector and his opinions on digital learning in schools, university applications and more.
Welcome to College in Conversation, the official podcast of Lingfield College. Join me Matthew Harris, alumnus and host as I talk to the staff, students and community showing you exactly what life is like at Lingfield. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of College in Conversation. Now, today, I'm sat down with a fellow Crystal Palace Football Club supporter, so this is by far and away my favourite podcast I've ever done.
And we haven't even spoken a word yet and I think that's fair to all my other guests. I'm sorry, but if you support Palace, you're going to get a better interview. It's just the way it is. So yeah, today I sat down with the wonderful Mr. Hagan and we're going to be talking about his life before Lingfield. His role as head of digital learning and his work as a UCAS coordinator and everything and anything in between.
So firstly Mr Hagan, how are you today?
Erm, a bit wet. A very wet day as we’re recording this. But yeah, apart from that, I'm very happy. Thanks. Yeah. I hope you're well.
Yeah. No, I'm not, I'm not doing any worse than normal. So we're okay there and yeah, we'll start off with talking about your life before Lingfield. What were you up to and what brought you to the school?
Yeah, I have to go way back. It goes back to school to end up at a school, I guess. But yeah, I went to a state school in Bromley and I was one of those students that wasn't necessarily the best behaved between years 9 and 10 at least. So that meant I got a fresh start, a large sixth form college, which was quite an interesting environment, shall we say.
But what was great about it was you were treated quite like an adult and I really liked that and thrived off that. And I had some great teachers, which inspired me to study law at uni. So I did go and study law at university, which I love the academic side of law. It was fantastic and I kind of always wanted to come back and teach because of that experience at 16 to 18. But I ended up doing better at university and law than anyone expected me to do including myself to some extent, and was pushed into, well, you know, everyone wants to go and be a solicitor if they're doing law, if you've got the grades and the chance, you should do it. So I did get a chance to do it and thought, “I’ll give it a go.”
And I did fully qualify as a solicitor, actually. But my heart was still kind of with teaching. So qualifying into a recession helped me to make the decision to get into teaching before the money got too good into law. I think, Yeah, that's the best way to do it. So yeah, like Mr. Bool, we’re both qualified solicitors, although he was at a larger firm than myself.
So my passion really to get back into teaching as well was to really show that law and business aren’t actually very difficult subjects if you take out the jargon, explain it simply, which is still kind of what I try and do now. But schools wise, I started off briefly at my school, which was interesting having been a dodgy student there, and then a very, very good state school in the Bromley area where I spent four years. Then moving on to an international school in central London, which was very different and very small and with an eye on maybe moving to Switzerland one day being half Swiss.
But we had about 15 kids in each year group, the Princess of Ethiopia, and students with private chauffeurs. And
One guy with one guy was outside on the door with a gun from a security point of view.
Right for hostage potential type things.
And ambassadors’ kids, I remember telling off a girl, or almost telling her off, cos she was like, “Sir, can I have a day off school?” I was like, “Why? Why are you going to miss class?” “I'm meeting the queen.” “I think. I think that's okay.”
It's just a bit above your pay grade, that one, isn't it? You don't to get in trouble at the palace.
Yeah. She's only been in the country a few months and that was their second time, so.
Quite different. But a really interesting experience where I became head of humanities, sort of deputy head in the sixth form, the head of Enterprise and Careers and UCAS. Because it was a small school. We took on sort of multiple roles, but I wanted to move further out into these beautiful green pastures that we have here.
Indeed, we’ll whack that on the website.
Oh no, I mean, very much so. I started to cycle to work actually in recent months before it got so wet and it’s a joy to be able to go through these beautiful country lanes and get to this site where we've got the lovely view back to the downs. And that's kind of one of the things that made me look further afield and I wanted to find a school that was relaxed and even though it was independent, it wasn't actually kind of another world to a crazy level and that students would be, you know, down to earth and responsive and still feel like you can make a difference and help.
So I think Lingfield very much is that.
That's fantastic. And you mentioned about earlier on in that answer about making law and business more approachable by sort of removing the jargon. How have you adapted that as you've moved forward? Was that easy initially? Because obviously if you came straight from a law firm, you'd be communicating with that sort of nomenclature day in, day out. So how was that transitioning from working into a law firm to teaching?
I didn't find that too difficult. I've always been quite straight talking and would often have friends at a friend's who, whilst being adults, don't necessarily have a great academic background. And they wanted me to explain something in the simplest of terms, and I'd say that was kind of my strength as a solicitor and those client meetings and translating it.
So I found that fine, and I did use to be able to teach law a-level. We don't offer it here at school at the moment, but we do certain law clubs and law elements. But I've yeah, I think that it's something that's been quite natural to me actually, not something I've had to actually work on. I'd say.
That's fantastic. And we mentioned in the introduction that you work as a one of the digital learning staff members here at the school and it's, you know, such an essential tool for any educational institute in this landscape and is only going to adapt and grow moving forward. I'd love to initially start with what drew you to that side of things at Lingfield and what have you implemented as a team so far that you think has had a positive impact on the school?
Yeah, well, it's definitely a team effort, first of all. So it's myself, Mr. Monk, who's very much the brains behind the operation, and Miss. Fallows, as well as some other staff that help out and drawn to it from a young age, my father worked for BT over 40 years in software and hardware, and he was much more technical than myself, a bit like Mr. Monk, whereas I was kind of a competent user and has always used tech to benefit me in my role, whether it's a solicitor or a teacher, I've always found it's increased my productivity in the way that I can help students at school, for instance. So it was always something quite natural to me. And at the international school we used to work in that way. All students had a device. Then when I came to Lingfield College, I had some great training sessions on digital learning for Miss. Allen, who'd already taken the school on fantastically leaps and bounds. And then when she decided to pass the baton on, it was a no brainer to go for it there. She'd introduced things already.
Firefly being kind of one of the big last things before I took over, but lots of things before then as well. So yeah, that was a no brainer from what to apply for it and try and take it forward from what had already happened, which was some great foundations actually, and it was a quite a great role around teaching until COVID that made it one of the toughest
Responsibilities. That was a extremely crazy time for myself, Mr. Monk, I don't think we've ever worked so hard, but we were very determined to give the best learning experience that we could. We're quite proud of how… how that went and how hard we worked, but it paid off and we… we want to build on that momentum. But that is difficult to directly build on.
You know, Mr. Monks, the brains, I've come back and say, let's have all the kids bring their laptops in, their personal devices with them straight away. And him and the IT team that we work with tell us that it's not that simple for very good reasons and it's good that we work as a team that way is I kind of translate things to the teachers and then they know the technical knowledge and it is a step-by-step process that we're building on.
And that diversity of opinion I think is incredibly important in any work establishment. So that's really good that your skill set complements other people in the team. And from the COVID experience, I mean, I came back here in the autumn of 2020, so students were back here, but my brother was in Year 13 during that pandemic, and he took his A-levels digitally and everything like that.
And while obviously it was a huge, huge had a massive effect on those kids, I know from his experience that you guys did as good a job as you possibly could have done. So, I know that he would be really complimentary of everything that you guys did in that situation, as difficult as that would have been. Well, let's talk about we talked about the past of digital learning.
Let's talk about the future specifically at Lingfield. What type of things would you like to implement or possibly see being implemented in the future? And how do you think the digital landscape in education as a whole will properly adapt going forward or your best guess?
Yeah, I mean, we see it as a very important skill of digital skills. It's in our educational vision. Mr. Fast is very keen on it as well, so we want to develop it in a way that is authentic to the challenges that students will have in the future in the workplace. So, we don't necessarily want all iPads in a lesson for a kind of one-off thing that you might do just for fun.
We want students to get used to not individual applications, but how they might walk into a meeting in the future and not just make notes, but have the agenda automatically distributed to them, at notes to it, add audio, drag in files, use visual stylus pens, etc. to work in a more creative but futuristic way. And we just want them to go and get used to that, confident with that and also benefit from the productivity gains that technology can give you.
But it is always a constant balancing act because exams are still written and students definitely need to develop those important foundational skills. So, we have got plans in place about how to balance the two. Personally, at the moment I'm doing a lot of trials with OneNote as an app, which we've seen other schools utilise as well and it's doing lots of wonderful teaching and learning things whilst also being quite environmentally friendly from a paper distribution point of view.
But I'm doing a lot of experimentation with the impact of audio feedback on essays and students seem to be really responding to that in the sixth form. We know they've got their own devices, so it works really well.
Yeah, absolutely. And like you mentioned earlier on in the podcast, you're sort of liking when you're at school of being treated more like an adult and, you know, being taught things directly linked to when the students will be in a workplace. And as you mentioned, they're looking forward when they get jobs in work meetings, as you say, with the agendas and all those various bits and bobs.
It's nice that you link it to that because I know a lot of it will be done at university in that way of, you know, being independent with taking notes and independent learning and the productivity will help in that side. So, it's nice that while it helps students of all ages through the school, it's directly prepping those kids for the workplace itself.
~ If you would like to sponsor our podcast, please email marketing@LingfieldCollege.co.uk
Let's move on to your role as a UCAS coordinator. So, I'm sure all the Year 13s by now spend a lot of time with you and the year 12s are gearing up to spend more time with you, so they probably know a bit more about what you do.
But I know this will be really useful for any students lower down in the school and parents of, what does that role entail?
Sure, it entails working with Mr. Scott. Again, I've got a very helpful person with me. It's a joint effort. We're both co-leads on UCAS, but actually it's really about helping students put their best foot forward and learn about why they might want to go to university, which university, which course and help them pick the right option. And when it comes to university, we don't just advise university.
We've got Mrs. Mortleman, who works with the students in regards to apprenticeships or degree apprenticeships. So, it's educating them about the options and getting them to really, really think as much as possible what would be right for them. I'm really proud that as a school we don't have targets of how many students we get into Oxford or Cambridge or Russell Group Unis, although we're very successful on those fronts, to be honest.
But we've had students who are head student who've turned down Exeter University to do a degree apprenticeship at Pearson because it's right for them. And that's the sort of thing that we're really trying to do, is help them to make an important decision properly and not for the wrong reasons.
It's really good to hear that you're sort of helping them find the answer to their own question rather than telling them it, presenting them with options and giving them the detail and allowing them to make a decision based on that. Because a lot of the time at school, regardless of what school you're at, you are sheltered, you're making a best guess.
You can go to all the open days and things that you want, but presenting that information is fantastic. I'd love to ask you what your sort of advice would be to either people that are in sixth form now or lower down in the school that are a bit nervous about the fact that when they're asked the question, So what do you want to be when you grow up? Or What do you want to do after school when they go, “I've got absolutely no idea.” What advice would you give to kids that think that?
Well, the first thing I say is, nor do I know I want to do when I grow up.
…just because there's this idea that we have to pick forever. And obviously now we know the stats, the figures behind career changes, job changes, etc.. So I try and make them feel like it's okay that you don't know. Lots of teachers might not do this forever.
I think I will, but I've made a career change and other people make it the other way, so that's a starting point. So might not feel anxious about that. The other thing is as well is I really try and think about them going with their heart. What subjects do you enjoy the most? Obviously there has to be a bit of a balance there between if I want to have this career, I'm going to have to do certain subjects.
But I always think that you're going to, at university and in a job, work harder in the thing that you really enjoy and ultimately end up on the better income down the line and work your way higher up, if it's something you're passionate about. Otherwise, the money alone is slightly higher in one graduate job rather than the other isn't truly going to make a huge difference at that point.
I also tell them to think early and decide like, so we do try and get the Year 12s thinking about it early, but I'm always kind of nervous when a student does say, I know exactly what I want to do. I kind of challenge that because it would be easy to be like, That's one student down, I don't need to help.
But sometimes they've made that decision too quick, or it's based off of a family member, which, you know, it's great to get family input, but to a level where actually they have not fully thought through, “Is that best for me.?” So, we don't want them to decide too early. We just want them to sort of think early and use the resources that we've given them.
We've got lots on Firefly, we have a lot of one-on-one help and drop ins and we've got uni frog, which is a wonderful resource and a company that we work with, which gives them loads of options. But I think it's great that the size of the school, even though we've expanded and grown, gives me an opportunity to get to know most of the students, the sixth form, between myself and Mr. Scott, all of them so that we can sit down and give them that personal advice. And that's where we can have these meaningful conversations.
Absolutely. And I think that goes right back to the prep school. When you look at the class numbers and the way the teachers go about their pastoral care and looking after students and the communications between departments, just knowing the kids back to front is so useful in every stage of their learning development in their school career. Do you find it… how often do you sit down with these students looking at the UCAS early on or with Miss Mortiman or Mr. Scott? And you go, “Have you ever considered working in this area?” or think about this something completely left of field, and they've gone, “Oh my God, yeah, that applies. That works to this skill. This skill. I like this.”
Does that happen often?
It does, yeah. I mean, we get to sit down with them quite regularly. We have a weekly clinic all year for year 13 although some year 12s can come along and there are students that think I'm going to do this subject because I do the subjects A-level, but they don't realise, for instance, at university, the range of subjects is huge.
It's bigger than any sixth form could offer and sometimes conversations that we have do make them aware of different courses or they'll do a MUC, an online kind of course on uni frog or on Springpod and it will open up their mind to a whole new field and I'll talk to them about how I know someone in that field and Miss. Mortleman might have a contact they can do work experience in that field.
It's quite an organic process. And just the other day we had a student come back to us to ask about an apprenticeship opportunity that was coming up, and it's nice that they come back and they ask our advice when they've left. But I was able to ring up my brother-in-law and get his advice because it's an industry that he works in and it really helped the student to kind of move into the part of media agencies that is going to be the most creative and right for her.
So yeah, one of the things I really enjoy only go for extra responsibilities that I'm truly passionate about. And you know, I wouldn't give them up easily. I really enjoy both of them, and particularly the UCAS system. It’s very rewarding when you see students get excited about the future and about university, which was the best years of my life, but apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular, especially on the money front with university fees going up.
So yeah, our students are definitely given a broad range of options.
Absolutely. Yes, I think, you know, everyone probably can go to university, but that you don't necessarily have to and it might not be the best career path. And again, it's great to see that the school is reflecting that. One final question, I guess is it's not really do's and don'ts. That's probably incorrect. But what are the pieces of advice you seemingly give every single year en masse to 6th form students about UCAS or things that they say, “Oh, I don't need to worry about that.”
And you go, “No, you do.” Every year after year.
Well, I'd say it's often about what university to study at. So sometimes students maybe have an overemphasis on the league tables and the rankings, but they are wildly different between The Times and The Guardian. And some of the universities that aren't as old in their traditions are actually higher up in the rankings than some of the Russell Group Unis.
So, I'd say to them not to overly focus on the league table as your factors and also location. Some students think have to go to the other side of the country to have a good, unique experience. And whilst it's great to see another part of the country for a few years, I'll remind them that lots of uni students go home on weekends.
So, if you can't because you're so far away, it can be a bit lonely, you could be quite far away. You might think Manchester or Liverpool are exciting places, but if you've only grown up in a small village in Surrey, that could be quite a leap.
(Laughing) Absolutely, it definitely can.
Yeah. So, I tell them to definitely think about that and go and see it, and I point them towards some of the very respectable and fun and great universities that are not necessarily hours and hours and hours away. I also encourage them not to necessarily go to the same university as their friends. They'll make new friends. So that's kind of some of the key things as well as just make sure you do your research on the course.
Some business courses, for example, will be more mathematical in the modules that are offered without too many different modules in other areas where some will be based more in marketing. So, they really need to make sure that they've picked the right one. Some are becoming a bit more coursework based, which is quite new compared to how assessment was done.
Is that for you? Is that not for you? So there are kind of key things that I remind them about over the years.
Absolutely. Well, it's been really wonderful to chat to. I mean, you just, it's clear that that's how much you know, your stuff and are clearly passionate about it. And just having this one sit down conversation with you, I can see how lucky the students are here to work with yourself and other team members in the business department, in the digital learning department and the UCAS department.
So, it's been a wonderful learning experience for me as much as anything else. So, thank you for taking the time to listen to our podcast. We hope you enjoyed it and look forward to welcoming you back for another conversation at Lingfield College very soon.
If you would like to sponsor an episode of our podcast we would love to hear from you! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.