AN OXFORDSHIRE school has virtually welcomed its new principal even though it is currently closed.

Sam Knowlton has joined University Technical College (UTC) Oxfordshire, near Didcot, at a very challenging time.

The school is a mixed college in Harwell and the new principle, Ms Knowlton, spoke about her vision for pupils and staff moving forwards and the difficulty of starting during a pandemic.

She said: “I was thrilled when I was told I had been appointed.

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"I was so proud to be the new principal of UTC Oxfordshire and to be leading it on the next phase of its journey.

"Joining the school during Covid-19 wasn’t really how I expected my start to be.

"In my head I had imagined the first day, INSET with staff, to be face-to-face with all of the non-verbal cues that we all rely on. Instead, I was in front of a screen, with my slippers on, rattling through a PowerPoint with no clue as to whether the staff were still there.”

The new principal believes there have been advantages to starting the role during lockdown, as she was able to have more of a hand over from former principal, Owain Johns, and she was also able to get to know staff on a less formal basis virtually.

Ms Knowlton said: “I was attracted to the UTC Oxfordshire Principal post as this was an opportunity to combine both education and industry together.

"I place a high value on education and I think it is one of the greatest gifts we can give our young people. Coupled with the industry focus and links with our business partners, it really enables us to provide industry partners with high-quality youngsters who are determined, excited and well educated in the STEM subjects, where we know there is a deficit in the workforce.”

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Ms Knowlton has not always been a teacher: she has had previous jobs in manufacturing (plastics, chocolate and pharmaceuticals).

The new principal also has a post graduate qualification in applied oceanography and she originally intended to follow a career in the oil industry.

She instead found herself in cellular communications working on algorithms for analogue cell phones and then on the set-up for the digital networks.

Eventually Ms Knowlton came into teaching and specialised in physics.

She said: “My experience of this role so far has been very good. It’s great to have a support mechanism within ALET (Active Learning Education Trust) from an administration perspective but also from the other principals in the trust. There is strength in numbers and the group have made me feel very welcome, particularly in this challenging time when the wellbeing of staff, students and their families is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The trust has definitely given me a safe and supportive environment.

“The next phase for UTC Oxfordshire is to ensure that we become a world-class centre of excellence in science and engineering for students aged 14-19. Our excellent outcomes for the students and the amazing relationships and work we do with our business partners will continue to thrive.”