OBE Reflections with Virginia Barrett

When I received the unexpected news of my inclusion in the New Year’s Honours List in late 2023, it was truly a moment of disbelief mingled with gratitude. After one of our busiest years working hard to mitigate the effects of RAAC concrete in our college, the news gave me time to think about the ups and downs that we all go through working in education.

Thinking about the journey that my career in education had taken, leading me to this recognition, was both humbling and overwhelming. And then, to top it off, was the investiture ceremony in February, where His Royal Highness Prince William formally presented me with my OBE at Windsor Castle —a surreal experience, to say the least.

During the ceremony, I couldn’t help but feel a range of emotions. It was not just about the title or the recognition; it was a reflection of the collective effort and unwavering support of everyone who had been part of my journey.

I was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, to a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a carpenter. It was a challenging time and I was sent to Jamaica at the age of two and a half years old where I was educated. I was fortunate enough to be supported by one of my cousins, Doreth Chambers, who was the first in the family to pass her common entrance exam and go to university.

I returned to the UK at the age of 21, where I studied Business and Finance and began my teaching career in Hackney, London. I am very grateful to my aunts who instilled in me a sense of service and strong work ethic.

My career path in education was shaped by countless individuals who believed in me and supported me along the way. From my teachers at Haringey College, whose guidance during my return to the UK in ’88 set the foundation for my passion for learning, to Principals and managers whose mentorship and belief in my abilities propelled me forward. Each encounter, and each relationship, played a crucial role in shaping the person I am today.

Arriving at Farnborough College of Technology (FCoT) in 2016, I found myself in a vibrant community of lecturers, support staff, and students who had one thing in common—to make a difference in their lives and of those around them. We kick-started a journey shaped by triumphs and challenges, where every obstacle was met with resilience and determination, demonstrating our service to our communities as a sustainable college. Our experience with RAAC concrete springs to mind again!

The investiture ceremony served as a moment of reflection, a short break in the busy life that everyone who works in education will understand, to appreciate the tremendous community we’ve built at FCoT. It was a testament to the power of collaboration and the strength that comes from working together.

One major advantage of working with so many talented young students is that the fashion department were enthusiastic about playing a role in the day, by coming up with ideas for my outfit and even creating it. The result was wonderful and I could not imagine being in a better outfit! Thank you to all the students and staff who helped with this.

Virginia Barrett with the students and staff who created her outfit

I am deeply grateful for the trust and confidence placed in me by FCoT’s Board of Governors and for the unwavering support of my colleagues, friends, and family. This honour also belongs to each and every individual who has contributed to our collective journey.

Looking ahead, my vision for FCoT is simple—to continue making a difference in the lives of our students and communities, while acknowledging our responsibilities to the environment and promoting equality for all.

As I reflect on this honour and my day at Windsor Castle, I feel a great sense of gratitude and humility. It is a reminder of the transformative power of education and the importance of working together.

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