12 February 2020

Sometimes, you just need to find your vocation in life in order to shine. Take our Year 13 student Liam, for example.

Liam, 17, is excelling on his Level 3 Professional Cookery course and is about to move into employment at a local business - the start of what we all hope will be a long and successful career.

The two-year vocational course is delivered in partnership with 1st Leap Training at their purpose-built facility at Burrington Business Park. Under the expert guidance and tutorship of experienced cook Rob Haynes, Liam has developed a real flair for cooking - as four lucky Stoke Damerel members of staff recently discovered.

Liam and three other students devised, cooked and served up a special three-course meal for the four ‘diners’. But whereas contestants on Masterchef have been known to crumble under the pressure, the students delivered three perfect dishes: A modern take on the traditional classic, Prawn Cocktail; Pork Wellington with croquette potatoes and buttered spinach in a cranberry jus; and Chocolate Fondant.

“These students are 16 and 17-years-old, and here they are, cooking, dishing up and serving food like this,” said Mr Haynes.

Liam has had to overcome extreme shyness to succeed on the course. Now, he is a student that his peers on the course look up to. Mr Haynes said: “We have seen him grow from being exceptionally shy and lacking in confidence, to becoming confident and willing to lead. He now mentors and supervises other students.

“He is brilliant - everyone likes him, and he is going to be absolutely fine in a working environment. Further on in the future, I think we will see Liam and some of the other students going on to work in fine dining. It’s a case of taking a step at a time.”

And Mr Haynes should know - he has over 30 years of experience in the business and spent much of his career as a chef in the demanding environment on board a ship with the Royal Navy. He has even cooked for The Queen!

So, what are Liam’s hopes for the future?  He said: “My long-term ambitions are to start working in a cafe and one day maybe run my own cafe.

“I am really pleased that I took the vocational route, as at the end of year 11, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do,” he added. “This gave me the opportunity to try something different and begin to build a future career.”

An important part of the course is to learn front of house skills, which also builds essential life skills such as communication. Liam said: “I have loved cooking with Rob. He has shown me some new skills and really helped me to become more confident. I wasn't confident to begin with and was worried at the start of going to a new place - but I am so glad I did it.”

College staff have also noticed a big difference in Liam’s confidence levels. Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Co-ordinator (SENDCo), Mrs Skinner, said: “We are absolutely thrilled at how Liam has developed as a result of doing this course. He is so much more confident, which has encouraged his communication skills - he just looks very happy.”

Vocational Qualifications Manager, Mrs Sinclair said: “The vocational pathway offers a different journey into employment and it has options for everyone, it is very inclusive. Liam is a perfect example of how students can thrive if they have these opportunities.”

And Careers and Employability Manager Miss Trezona added: “Going into the 6th form with vocational study has allowed Liam to flourish. He spends two days a week at the Professional Cookery course, a day doing work experience at a workplace and two days at the College. The result is that he is now about to start work.

“Liam’s story shows that the vocational journey is providing opportunities for our students to find their passion - and to find successful careers.”