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Ely College principal’s trip to US was ‘scandalous waste’ of school funds

By Ely News  |  Posted: January 14, 2014

Catherine Jenkinson-Dix, principal of Ely College

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Thousands of pounds has been spent on sending the principal and assistant principal of Ely College to California - sparking fury from staff.

It was during the last week of term that college principal Catherine Jenkinson-Dix and assistant principal, Damien Whales, flew out to San Diego.

The trip to High Tech High (HTH) was to find out more about project-based learning - a form of learning in which students design, plan, and carry out extended projects that result in publicly-exhibited outputs like products, publications or exhibitions.

The school says the visit has “provided a great return on its investment” - and that more similar trips will be arranged.

But staff are angry and have described the visit as a “scandalous waste” of school funds.

In an anonymous letter sent to the News, a member of staff said: “Staff at Ely College are outraged that the principal and one of her assistant principals went to San Diego during the last week of term - costing thousands out of the school budget.

“The trip was to investigate project-based learning - information which can be gained from the internet.

“A scandalous waste of the school’s money.”

Project-based learning is success in the US and, according to the college, the UK government is now funding a study of the approach in Britain.

Defending the trip, Mr Whales said: “The visit completely changed our view of how best to adopt project-based learning at Ely College, and clarified which aspects we need to focus on to ensure our students gain as much as theirs do.

“It was an incredible experience that has had a significant impact on my professional development, not least because of the students we met.

“If we can help our young people become as self aware, motivated and ambitious as those we met at HTH, we will have succeeded.”

Ben Gibbs, chair of governors at, added: “Having seen how inspired both Catherine and Damien are after their trip, I am completely satisfied that the visit has provided a great return on our investment.

“I am encouraging the college to arrange further visits to other leading schools and to develop partnerships which broaden our horizons and improve our students’ experience.”

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