Staff in the Spotlight: Debbie Collinson-Bolles

August 11, 2020

At HSDC we have a number of highly-skilled, dedicated and passionate staff.

They go above and beyond to help our students reach their full potential. We want to shout about these integral members of our HSDC community, so every month we will be finding out about the people behind our teaching excellence with our ‘Staff in the Spotlight’ feature.

This month we are recognising Debbie Collinson-Bolles, who is Head of SEND at HSDC.

How long have you worked at the College? 

I’ve worked full time at the College for 19 years, but also did some part time teaching for three years before that as an adult education literacy tutor for South Downs, so technically in total 22 years!

Why did you choose the subject that you teach?

I started off teaching English, as it was my favourite subject at school and college, but it soon evolved into teaching social communication for students with SEND after I decided to specialise in around 2001. I trained in various alternative communication methods such as PECS, Widget, Makaton and BSL in order to meet the wider needs of applicants from the specialist school sector.

What was your journey/training before coming to HSDC?

Initially I did my Bachelor’s degree at Exeter and then Portsmouth hoping to enter the film production industry. During that time, I worked in several retail jobs and ended up as a security guard at Portsmouth Dockyard! I then went to work for IBM UK in the Lead Management department where I realised that the corporate life was not really for me. I really wanted to work with young people and started work full time at Highbury College in 1996 as a “super tutor” which soon progressed into teaching for the SEND department. At this time, I also took a part time job teaching adult literacy in the evenings for South Downs College (as it was at the time). An opportunity for a full time support needs co-ordinator/lecturer position came up at South Downs in 2001 and I’ve been here ever since. In 2014 I became Assistant Head of Department for Foundations for Learning (FfL), then in 2016, Learning Manager. Now I’m lucky enough to work across all three HSDC campuses as Head of SEND.

Do you practice the subject you teach outside of work?

I do a lot of Makaton at the pub when it’s noisy…does that count?

What is the highlight of your role at HSDC?

Seeing young people with a variety of barriers to learning, succeed and achieve. The ultimate highlight is seeing our students gain paid employment and other positive outcomes.

What kind of careers have your students gone on to do?

Students in FfL have progressed to a very wide range of careers including hotel & restaurant work, carer positions in residential homes, work at recycling plants, animal care and retail. One of our Supported Interns has just secured a place at the University of Portsmouth to do a degree in Games Design.

What is something about your job that people don’t know?

I deal with a lot of financial claims to Local Authorities and I have to ensure that we comply with several different types of legislation.

What three words would your students use to describe you?

Fair, lively and informal.

How do you relax outside of work?

I go to the gym, walk my dog (mad working cocker spaniel), travel on my own and I go to a lot of gigs. Wine also helps…