Maritime expert Simon Ashton has brought his career full circle by being named the new Principal of South Shields Marine School.
Simon, 46, began his training as an ambitious cadet at the marine school – the world’s oldest purpose-built maritime training centre – in 1993.
He was appointed deputy principal in May 2018 and interim principal in April 2020, and has now attained the top job on a permanent basis.
Simon admits it has been to a baptism of fire, due to being new to the role amid the coronavirus pandemic and its associated challenges.
But he insists the quality and dedication of his teaching team means the marine school has successfully adapted and its future is as bright as at any time in its 160-year history.
He said: “I’m incredibly proud and truly thrilled to be appointed Principal of this fantastic maritime centre, but I do see myself only as the current figurehead.
“Being made interim principal really was like being thrown in at the deep end but only because of the pandemic and the uncertainty that created.
“I’ve had great help from everyone associated with the marine school, everyone has pulled together and fully supported me.
“The marine school has been a very big part of my life and, personally, I do feel a sense of ownership which only comes when you know and love somewhere so much.
“One of my qualities is the ability to empathise with our students as I have been through everything they are going through.
“I have also developed good relationships with the shipping firms and the clients we work with, so I know what their goals are.
“The marine school has a hugely prestigious and impressive history – I know its future is in safe hands with the terrific team I have in place.”
He added: “It has been a daunting but also a very exciting period for everyone involved at South Shields Marine School and we have certainly risen to all challenge we have faced.
“We have been able to move much of our learning quickly and effectively online which in fact has had a number of benefits.
“This has included overseas students being continue their learning and for new recruits anywhere in the world to sign up for courses and begin their learning remotely.
“The marine school has very talented staff who love what they do and they all knew how to implement the necessary changes.
“I’m always hugely impressed by their dedication to the marine school, and they have certainly helped me in my new role.”
Teesside-born Simon gained his officer accreditation through the marine school and worked for Shell and shipping firms P&O Ferries and P&O Cruises.
While at sea, he also gained his Chief Mate and Masters qualifications through continued training with the marine school.
He developed such a taste for teaching new recruits that he returned to dry land and South Shields as a maritime lecturer in 2006.
The keen rugby union fan and qualified referee, who also holds a First-Class Degree in Applied Management, became a head of school in 2010.
Simon has identified greater promotion of the marine school’s training expertise, at home and abroad – and expansion of overseas training partnerships - as key drivers.
He added: “South Shields Marine School really is a fantastic facility, one which the people of the region should be rightly proud.
“We want to increase understanding and awareness of what we can offer to a global audience.”
While deputy principal, the marine school won the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2019 for work in maritime computer modelling.
Influential to award success was its support of Tengizchevroil, Kazakhstan’s state oil company to develop a port and waterway on the Caspian Sea to serve the expansion of the giant Tenzig oilfield.
The marine school also made key computer simulations that ensured Britain’s two new aircraft carriers safely reached the North Sea from their berth on the Firth of Forth in 2017.