Aspiring young hairdressers at The College of North East London (CONEL) have been given a masterclass in cutting and colouring by two internationally-acclaimed stylists.

Andy Kyriacou and Tamara Doncova, of Lexington’s Salon in North Finchley, came to the College as part of a national scheme to encourage youngsters on vocational courses to move ‘from competence to excellence’. Tamara is an ex-student of the College, who has since gone on to win awards and compete in international competitions as a colourist.

Also visiting the college on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) was Jen Hall, who told the learners about the WorldSkills competition that will be held in London in 2011. A number of the College’s learners across a wide range of subjects have now entered for the competition’s national stage, WorldSkills UK.

Speaking at the end of the masterclass, in which eight of the College’s most talented hairdressing students learnt advanced techniques from the highly-skilled professionals, Jen said: “The learners have been so enthusiastic – they’ve been totally engaged from the very start of the day. It’s particularly nice to see Tamara here as an ex CONEL learner, who has now gone on to amazing success – we hope she’ll be a real inspiration to the current crop of learners. We are very grateful to Andy and Lexington’s for supporting today’s masterclass – we couldn’t run these events without employers who are willing to engage with learners and share their professional expertise.

Andy, founder of Lexington’s Salon, explained what the CONEL learners had done. “We started the day by showing them a video of some of the show work we do, which is really the most exciting end of our work. Then we showed them some quite advanced techniques. These guys need to be really committed. They shouldn’t see hairdressing just as a job – it’s a profession, but also an art. It is very glamorous at the top end, but anyone who wants to get there needs a good education behind them, and needs to put in some hard graft.”

Tamara, Creative Art Director at Lexington’s, studied for her NVQ Level 3 at CONEL four years ago, while already working at Lexingtons. She said: “It’s great that CONEL’s learners already practice on paying life clients in the Salon. Fully hands-on experience is so crucial in this industry.” She also explained that she has plenty of her own ambitions still to fulfil. “I want to stay at the top of the business creatively, but I’d also love to open an academy one day,” she said.

Still buzzing from the day’s activities, CONEL learner Xo Nguyen said: “Today has been an amazing day. It’s brilliant to learn from people who’ve achieved as much as Andy and Tamara. Their skills are incredible.”

Xo’s fellow learner Zakia agreed: “Today has given me so much confidence – I learnt lots of new skills. Now I want to try to do something not just good but really great in the future. Tamara is a real inspiration – she proves how far talent and hard work can get you. I have big ambitions, and I’m sure my lecturers at CONEL will help me get there.”

CONEL lecturer Eleni Rotis hopes that Tamara’s story will inspire many more learners at the College: “When she first came here, Tamara was already working at Lexington’s, and clearly had a talent, but we gave her the technical knowledge and skills she needed. These links with industry are crucial to any College. For the masterclass, we selected the learners with the most natural talent and drive. Xo is a great example – he actually missed the first few weeks of his course, but now he’s already confidently showing his classmates how to do certain things.”

More than 200 similar masterclasses took place across the country this year, with more than 1200 learners attending.

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