After close to 13 years with LIFT OFF, it’s time for me to move on. I have found working at LIFT OFF; with the pupils, staff, parents, colleges, universities and schools incredibly rewarding. Before I leave for my new role, I wanted to reflect on some of my key achievements which continue to fill me a pride.

LIFT OFF Learning Skills Logo

Back when I first started at LIFT OFF, our established credit rated element of the programme, LIFT OFF Learning Skills (LOLs) was just an idea. I was grateful to play a role in the creation of LOLs and support its pilot during academic year 2011/12. My main contribution was working with Fife College on quality assurance and creating processes to record pupil work and store pupil evidence to enable external moderation to run smoothly. Most of the processes are still being used today. 

If you can believe, LIFT OFF previously consisted of a series of workshop or events for pupils, but didn’t really have clear learner journey for participants. Working with experts in whole system evaluations, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe), I contributed to a full LIFT OFF overhaul which resulted in the creation of a LIFT OFF learner journey which complimented the programmes’ key objective to support pupils into Higher Education. My role was outlining the engagements we delivered, what these engagements achieved, and how we evidenced that. 

LIFT OFF Learner Journey
Mairi holding Learner journey diagram

During this time we worked with targeted schools, so not every school was offered support from LIFT OFF. Now that we had a learner journey in place, I was able integrate a new school into programme, Glenwood High School, phasing in LIFT OFF support over pupil year groups. This model was a success and resulted in me coordinating the induction of Buckhaven High School to LIFT OFF in preparation for its merger with Kirkland High School in the newly established Levenmouth Academy, which opened in 2016. I also coordinated the transition of support for Menzieshill High School pupils moving to Harris Academy prior to its closure. 

In academic year 2017/18 I worked closely with Angus Council and the other Schools for Higher Education Programmes (SHEP) to create a robust pupil selection criteria which enabled us to target LIFT OFF support to those in need. Angus Council helped ensure that the pupil criteria we asked for could be evidenced by the schools, without putting too much extra workload on our fabulous contact teachers.

This put us in good stead for perhaps the biggest LIFT OFF change to date, the expansion of the programme facilitated by targeting pupils instead of working with targeted schools. Some might imagine LIFT OFF received a hefty lump of cash to support us to work with a predicted 150% increase in pupils eligible for support from up to 42 schools, and you would be wrong. I did not shy away from this challenge, and now in my LIFT OFF programme manager role, began the task of crunching the data and thinking of solutions as to how we could make this work. With the help of the LIFT OFF staff, SHEP and the local authorities, LIFT OFF launched its new tired delivery model in academic year 2018/19, with our robust pupil selection criteria playing a key role in the allocation of support.

I think we all know what happens next….COVID-19 caused havoc in 2020, with its aftermath still being felt today. Leading the transition to online delivery, and supporting my team became my priority. The LIFT OFF team began working full time from home, and although we are back delivering in school, we still work from home for a portion of time. I’m an advocate for a mentally healthy workspace, and prior to the pandemic had already integrated work-based practices to promote this; including a jigsaw table, wellness action plans, and health and wellbeing flexi time. Although the jigsaws had to be abandoned when we started working from home, I am pleased to report that my mentally healthy work based practices are still being utilised today, in addition to flexible working hours. 

LOLS online session during Covid pandemic

Like an ever-evolving creation, LIFT OFF is currently working with its’ regional Access to High Demand Professions partners to create a system of holistic support to benefit those in need within the Fife and Tayside region, under the National Schools Programme banner. I’ve taken pleasure in being part of the National Schools Programme conception since 2021, but it’s time pass the baton on.

On a national scale, I played a key role in launching Scotland Community of Access and Participation Practitioners (SCAPP) by being in the short life working group for almost 2 years. This group of around 6 people established the key principles of the community and explored avenues to achieve them, before launching SCAPP in 2019. 

I’ve also taken in pride in being asked to speak to national audiences through best practice events, partner engagements and webinars. I’ve learned a great deal through mentoring initiatives both as a mentor and mentee, and have expanded my knowledge and contributed expertise in steering and advisory groups.

I realise my final word has turned into a self-indulgent ramble, and for that I’d like to say Thank You. Thank You to everyone who has encouraged me, helped me and supported me along the way. Thank You to pupils and students who achieved their goals with the help of the LIFT OFF, you made my job worthwhile. Thank You to everyone who has played a part in allowing me to take pride in my achievements within LIFT OFF.  These are the things I will take with me to my next chapter.

Thank you.  

LIFT OFF Team celebrating Mairi McKinnon
Mairi McKinnon profile image