Jump to content

Principal's Welcome

Get to know the Principal of Easton & Otley College...

David Henley - developed his love of land-based careers from a young age on the family farm in Yorkshire. He has gone on to run three land-based colleges.

At Easton & Otley College, our subsidised coach network brings people in from all over Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex to study for great careers. As David explains, the future in land based industries is high-tech, high-skilled and highly rewarding.

"As a child, I learned to be very resourceful. I explored the countryside as my playground. So I learned to take advantage of every delightful aspect of the countryside - whether it was fishing, shooting, enjoying the landscape or getting involved in work on the farm from a very early age.

"I was driving my first tractor at the age of six. People would walk behind and pick up the potato tops and throw them in the trailer.

"And I learned to work with teams of people as well. I suppose that was an offset from the isolation. When it came to potato picking, you were there with a team of people working in the field.

"I used to go every Saturday to York market with my parents. We'd take eggs, chickens, milk, butter and cream. I'd be meeting the buying public and selling to them.

"I've always known where food comes from. We'd slaughter a pig on the farm. The butcher would come and they would butcher it and I'd stand there as a child and watch the whole operation. But I also developed an interest in engineering. One of my hobbies was taking mechanical things apart to see how they worked - often taking things apart that were broken to see how they could be fixed.

"That led me to go to college to study agricultural engineering. I went from growing up on a farm to a place where I could develop my confidence and make a great bunch of new mates. That's what I want for our students now."

Encouraging and supporting students

"I did quite well on the course because I'm very competitive. I don't mind sitting a test and seeing if I can come top. I'm now competitive for the college that I lead. At primary school, our head teacher believed in putting children into a competitive environment and rewarding success. In my day, if you came last you hung your head in shame but, if you came top, you got the tube of Smarties. I always won the tube of Smarties!

"I would have difficulty if it was argued that you should never publish in the classroom who's come top and who's come bottom. There's nothing wrong with that as long as the person who's come bottom is given the support they need so they can overcome their particular barriers.

"I suppose I've always had a competitive instinct.

"In the south west, I learned to race my sailing yacht. I developed the skills under the tutelage of a member of my college staff. I'm not very good at it but I do race! I also compete whenever I can on my trials motorcycle including recently at Corton near Lowestoft. Some people who take part are considerably older than me!

"I started motocross racing when I was at home on the farm at the age of about 15. Motocross is both dangerous and expensive to compete in at the top level. It's one of the most physically demanding sports that you can do. Trials riding is less tough but still really challenging.

"I'm competitive in life and I'm competitive on behalf of this college."

Skills for the countryside - and the country

"I've been deeply moved by certain encounters and certain experiences over the years that have helped me get my head around what makes the land-based colleges special.

"When Princess Anne was on Countryfile, she was asked 'What do you think the countryside is ultimately for?'

"I'll never forget her answer: 'What do you mean what is the countryside for? It's for our survival isn't it?'

"You couldn't put it better than that. We are concerned with the industry that feeds the world and that sense of providing for the essentials of life extends to other things we do.

"We are teaching construction because people need roofs over their heads and there aren't enough roofs. There needs to be a bigger housing stock. Food on the table and a roof over your head. The connection's clear.

"Putting young people in a classroom with other young people where they can stimulate each other's appetite is also a vital part of what we do. We spend a fair bit of money on coach transport to get people here so they can mix and develop their social skills.

"In the same way that I went to college to develop my personal confidence, our students get that benefit by coming here."

The art and science of farming

"A farmer is an artist. Interpreting the local landscape. Understanding the soil, the climate, the micro climate, the local population and its needs, and the local market conditions.

"There is no specific answer that tells the farmer what to do to be successful. The farmer has got to interpret that landscape like an artist interprets the landscape but, having said that, it's all based in science. So the farmer has got to be a scientist as well as an artist.

"Farming isn't low tech. It's high tech. Farming is about practicing scientists employing scientific principles to extract from the natural environment what we need in society to live and be successful, in such a way that we don't degrade or denude our natural environment of all of its qualities.

"We live in a connected world. A farmworker might drive a £70,000 tractor with on board computers making it more like a mobile office. That tractor can plough that field for 12 hours and at the same time the driver can be in contact with his stockbroker, his banker, his local suppliers and his farmworkers!

"We need the next generation of bright young people not to be employed in financial services in the city, or media, or marketing. They need to apply their skills and expertise to food, farming and everything that hangs off it. They could walk straight into a job earning £30,000 having done a degree at Easton & Otley College. 

"Since the merger of Easton College and Otley College, we've now got a more stable organisation with sufficient size to be financially efficient. We're in good shape to send the next generation on its way into these great careers and that's our passion and our commitment."