Following the announcement of her appointment as Managing Director of Westchester Education UK & International earlier this year, we caught up with Rebecca Durose-Croft about her journey so far and her passion for impacting students through educational publishing.
How did you first become involved in educational publishing?
Absolutely. Well, I’ve worked in educational publishing for around 17 years now. When I left university after my Bachelor’s Degree, I worked at the University of York in their Higher Education Academy, where my role was to support students on their learning journey, especially those with special educational needs. Along with my team, it was our responsibility to create print and digital materials that helped to breakdown any barriers to learning. It was the first time I saw first-hand the way that strong learning materials, shaped for specific learner needs, could have a huge impact on the way students learn and move forward in their education.
Once the spark was lit, how did your career develop from there?
I then moved to Oxford and studied for Master’s Degree in Publishing, and while I was studying I worked part time as an Editorial Assistant at Oxford University Press in their Dictionaries Department. After I graduated, I was offered a full-time role as a Project Editor in the Education Division, specifically the International Education team, and this is where I gained knowledge in international curricula and markets.
Next I progressed into the English Language Teaching Division, where I had a central role in their Media team as Script Editor. While in this role, I gained a qualification from Cambridge University to teach English to Adults, and taught in Oxford alongside my full-time job. I was then called back to the Education Division to support their Primary Literacy team as Development Editor. This was where I focussed on producing print and digital materials for phonic reading schemes, working with the Department for Education’s Letters & Sounds Framework and creating pathways to reading through policy documents and training videos. I left OUP in 2013 and started my own editorial services business, where I provided editorial support and consultancy to national and international publishers and ed-tech providers.
What did you learn from your time as a freelancer?
Running your own company is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year job – especially in those early days when you’re trying to establish a place in the freelance landscape. It’s really important, when you’re in your infancy, to ensure you take on the right roles, not just any role that is offered to you – it’s about quality not quantity. It’s easy to take on too much and tie yourself in knots – and I speak from experience! Have confidence, take your time, and think before saying ‘yes’.
I also learnt that you have to stay abreast of what is happening in the industry, and not to rest on your laurels. When I first started working for myself, educational publishers were just beginning to move from CD-ROM to platform-based digital materials. I had minimal experience of platform-based learning at the time, so I made it my mission to learn as much as I could about this new format and quickly established myself as a go-to person for digital-based editorial work in our industry.
How did you first become involved with Westchester Publishing Services UK?
Like many of these things, it came about by chance. A mutual connection put me in touch with our CEO after I’d mentioned I was pondering going back in house. At the time, Westchester Publishing Services UK were beginning recruitment plans in their Education division, as they had seen the need for someone on this team who not only understood the industry and knew content, but had the right connections. I worked for Westchester as a freelancer for a few months, building client relationships, pitching for business and writing proposals. By the end of 2020, we’d signed up an exciting list of clients and projects. I was offered the role of Content and Services Director off the back of this growth, and the rest, as they say, is history!
What trends or challenges have you seen in the educational publishing space over the past few years?
Well, what a couple of years we’ve had! It’ll be no surprise that we’ve seen a real need for content to be re-versioned for a digital classroom and for individual home learning – these two things were very front-of-mind and top of the agenda for most educational publishers in 2020. So digital production has increased vastly, and I’d say 80% of what we do now is for platform- or media-based learning.
We’re still feeling the impact of the pandemic in the education industry, and we will be for many years. However, as difficult as that time was for students and educators, it has allowed for conversation around assessment – how, who and when we assess learners, and to what end – which has been needed for a while.
We’ve also seen a huge rise in audio production, especially linked to Reading for Pleasure, which is intended to fill the literacy gap that widened during in the pandemic – not just in the UK but internationally too.
Which areas are you most looking forward to focusing on in your new role?
I’m looking forward to working closely with our CEO, and our team in the US, on our strategic plans for the Education business, and looking at ways we can diversify and grow into new areas.
I’m eager to work more closely with our clients on a more holistic level – to better understand their needs and the needs of their end-users – and also to speak more regularly with educators and industry leaders. I feel it’s important we have these conversations so we can say with integrity that we understand our industry and the challenges our clients face.
I’m also looking forward to spending more time with my team, and supporting them in their projects as well as their own professional development.
What projects or topics most ignite your passion for education?
I majored in Film at University and, as I mentioned, held the role of Script Editor at OUP, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get excited when an animation or film project comes our way! There is something so visceral about film, which allows the opportunity to have a huge impact on learners and the way they connect to the content.
That said, any project where content is shaped for specific learner needs and where there has been real thought into how it can impact students’ learning journeys is always a pleasure to work on.
And one to finish off … what was your favourite children’s book when you were growing up?
Good question! As a young child I loved my mum reading Jane Pilgrim’s Blackberry Farm series to me. As I got older, I would devour any Roald Dahl book (though The Twits was my favourite!) and I also enjoyed Goosebumps and Point Horror.
Visit our Podcast page to hear more from Rebecca about some of the topics discussed above.