University’s New Head of Education’s Unexpected Journey from Volunteer Parent to Teaching Leader

Catriona Robinson - Head of Education
Head of the School of Education, Catriona Robinson

Catriona Robinson told how a career in education or otherwise was never really a consideration when growing up. It was seeing the value of teaching first-hand that inspired her to pursue her own path.

“Subsequently, my passion centred around teacher education, making a difference to those disadvantaged young people in schools and broader educational settings,” she said. “In this role I’m making a difference, but in a more impactful way through my connections, discussions, and networks to influence a wide range of people including our students and the young people they go on to teach. So many of our students come from similar backgrounds to me. Helping them realise their aims and ambitions to achieve their potential is a real privilege. I believe my journey reflects the power education can have on social mobility.”

Mrs Robinson told how, growing up in rural Wales, the trajectory was to marry and become a farmer’s wife. “Girls of farming stock rarely went on to study for alternative future careers,” she said. “I’m the first generation into university in the family. My background meant I considered I had less chance of realising any personal dreams or potential.”

The arrival of her daughter brought her into closer contact with education. She agreed to volunteer at her daughter’s primary school, first helping children struggling with their reading, then running the school library. This progressed to other educational activities with the children, which ultimately led to a teaching assistant role.

“I worked with lots of special educational needs children, so little achievements were really significant,” she said. “It's the thrill of seeing the lightbulb moment on the faces of those children and knowing you made a breakthrough by using different teaching strategies as you can’t always do the same thing.” The school put her forward for teacher training at the then local college, later the University of Worcester. Gaining her degree and teaching qualifications in 1999, she worked as a primary school teacher, progressing quickly to Assistant Headteacher.

Mrs Robinson joined the University in 2004, teaching on undergraduate and postgraduate education courses, and has progressed through the ranks, becoming Deputy Head of the School of Education in 2014. Among her ambitions is to expand the University’s educational reach, looking at new opportunities to work with schools in different ways, particularly through Academy Trusts in the region. This includes helping to fill the skills gaps for both pupils and the teaching workforce, such as continued professional development. She also hopes to grow the University’s geographical reach and offer new and innovative education courses.

For her, the value of teaching and education is threefold – economic, cultural and social. “I have witnessed first-hand how education can enhance someone’s cultural capital through exposure to situations they might not have previously experienced,” she said. “Teachers play a really important part in raising aspirations, showing pupils they can realise their dreams to reach their potential and be a catalyst for social mobility.”