One-on-one with Terry Jones, ex-RAF pilot turned Principle of a college

Terence Jones, the newly appointed Principal of Peterborough Regional College, talks to journalism students discussing his past experiences as the RAF, his time spent working with the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline and his future plans for the college.

At only 12 years of age, Terry had already decided he was destined to become a pilot. He joined the Air Force when he was only 18 and could fly before he could drive, “which explains why I’m still a terrible driver!” Terry jokes.

By the time Terry was 21, he was flying Tornados, a type of aircraft, out in Germany on the front line squadron. Terry describes the experience as “a bit scary”. But his highlight of working within the Air Force was doing what he had been trained to do. “I know sometimes for people who have not been in the military, it’s difficult to understand; ‘Why would you want to go and do that?’ It’s a bit like: Imagine you trained to be a boxer but never went into the ring, or if you trained to be a teacher but never actually got to teach students, or if you trained to be a racing driver but never actually took part in a race. The training can be fun but it just wouldn’t seem complete unless you put it into action. So no matter how horrible those situations could’ve been, there was such a buzz to take all of the expectations that people had of me and go put them into action.”

“The things that I’m most proud of is that when I took my squadron on operations, we did a good job and I brought everybody back”

Commanding the flying training system for the RAF, the Navy and the British Army, was the last job Terence did before becoming Principal of a college.

Terry begins to contrast the two jobs, saying that running the flying training system was “very similar to a further education college”: “We would take people between the ages of 16 and 24, we’d give them some academic classroom based instruction, and then we’d give them some hands on instruction and practical experience on what they needed to do”.

“It might sound like a complete change of career to go from the RAF to come to a further education college, but actually there are more similarities than differences.”

Terence Jones could have gone anywhere with his bundles of experience and vast knowledge, yet he chose Peterborough Regional College as his next challenge to conquer. Why? Terry explains: “I would’ve gone anywhere for the right job. When you come out of something that you’ve done for 32 years, it’s a big change of direction. The jobs that really attracted me were to do with education and training. I had a lot of fun in the Air Force, but there’s a difference between fun and satisfaction. One of the things that were really satisfying was developing the next generation of pilots. So it was the college section of education that I wanted to go into. I felt matched for it.  When I was going for the educational jobs, they were always ringing back. In a way the job finds you just as much as you find the job.”

“I’m really passionate about developing the next generation.”

Peterborough Regional College is currently in the top 25% of colleges in Cambridgeshire; Terry describes the obstacles preventing the college from obtaining an Ofsted report of “outstanding” which would result in PRC soaring into the top ten percent.

Terence explains to the students that there are 188,000 people in the city of Peterborough and at any one time around 9,000 people would be in the college. “Some of the pupil’s secondary school attainment is not great. We could say ‘Okay, unless you get 5 GCSE’s you cannot come and study’ and this would be a way to get an outstanding Ofsted rating. But, it would be the wrong thing to do. I do want to get the college to an Ofsted report of outstanding, but it’s not the most important thing. What we need to do is support the learners in the city, help provide economic growth and regeneration by doing the best that we can.”

“We need to be outstanding in everything we do. We need to be inclusive and we need to be fair. I think academic results are important, but they’re not everything.”

The Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline is charity focuses on Belarus who received over 70% of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion that occurred in 1986. As a result, thousands are born every year with thyroid cancer, bone cancer and leukaemia. Terry reveals what is was like to work as an interpreter for the charity. “Just for my own interest, I learnt to speak Russian but found it difficult to get any practice. Then I became aware of a charity called Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline. I got involved as an interpreter and I really enjoyed that. It was great to practice speaking Russian; I learnt some new words, not all of them polite! If there was a highlight it was accompanying 30 Belarusian children to the dentist and sitting next to them while they got their treatment and interpreting between the dentist and the child! I have to tell you, the girls were really brave and the boys squealed like little pigs!”

Students commented on how distressing it must have been to meet these children who had been affected by such a terrible disaster. But, that that wasn’t even the most horrifying of Terry’s encounters. “A much more moving experience for me was being in Afghanistan and seeing what people there have to go through to access education.” Terry begins.

“I was based in Kandahar Airfield. There was a small village outside of the airfield that didn’t have a school teacher. The village got together and they wanted to refurbish an old building and get a part time teacher to come in from Kandahar city. We had a charity push at the station; we raised a lot of money so they could do this. They refurbished the school and opened it. They didn’t have a grand opening or anything, they just wanted to get the children in and teach them something so they could have some form of education.”

“On the first day, as the first student walked through the gate, an explosive device went off. The Taliban had rigged explosives in the compound.”

“That’s the sort of thing people have to go through to access education in a place like Afghanistan, and I found that quite inspiring. What’s even more inspiring is that a week later, all the children were back in school. The parents knew that the only way to make social progress was for their children to get educated.”

“Education is the most valuable things we have; it’s the biggest force in society for improvement.”


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