Hello Lesley, it is good to meet you in your capacity as Chair of Governors. Firstly, can you explain what the role of a College Governor is for those that may not know?
The key role of College Governors is to support and to challenge the leaders of the College to ensure that the interests of our staff and students is at the forefront of our strategies and actions. Governors also play a vital role in setting the strategic direction of the College and governors also have a link responsibility, which entails getting to know the staff and students in a particular curriculum area to really get to know what students experience at the College.
We are very fortunate at this College; our Governors bring a wealth of experience and work in a range of industries including finance, retail, local and regional businesses, and higher education.
It is a demanding role as, although its voluntary, many Governors have existing full time jobs or other personal commitments.
What are the biggest challenges you believe you’ll face over the next year?
Cheshire College South & West is a good College but like most, we will be, no doubt, be faced with challenges in areas such as funding, curriculum change and continuing to prompt apprenticeships to local employers. There will also be a general election within the next year and who knows what changes to our education system that may bring.
The future is always uncertain- but I know that the College’s staff and Governors will always ensure that the College is supportive of the local communities it serves and where people can continue to develop the core skills needed to improve their employment opportunities. Students of all ages will be provided with information and guidance to navigate the educational landscape.
Can you tell us a bit more about your career to date and why you chose to join Cheshire College?
I have worked in the Further Education (FE) sector for most of my career. In all my various roles I have always passionately believed in the power of further education and what it can achieve for students regardless of age, background and experience. The work of our staff changes lives and improves life chances and I am always impressed by their work and dedication.
My last full-time role was as CEO and Principal of The Trafford College Group. Since leaving I have supported several colleges, and prior to Cheshire I chaired a college that needed some additional support. When I left there were good governance arrangements in place to support the college and a strong leadership team ensuring students had a good experience whilst in education.
I have kept a close eye on Cheshire College as it is my local college. It was my good fortune that the College’s Chair of Governors, Dame Pat Bacon, was retiring this year and the opportunity for a new Chair became available. I was very fortunate that the timing worked out.
The role is incredibly important to me. As I said, Cheshire College is my local College and I have a vested interest in the community, and it is a privilege to work in the further education sector and a pleasure to work with staff and students. I have had a great start meeting so many dedicated staff and students at the College.
In 2016, you were the Founding Chair of the UK Skills Partnership Board, a network of the UK’s leading education sector organisations. Can you tell us a bit more about the network, who it benefits and how?
The Board was put together by the Department of International Trade and the members consisted of Chief Executives and Senior Directors of education and skills associations representing the whole skills sector. Members included the Association of Colleges (AoC), Universities UK, WorldSkills, Federation of Awarding Bodies, Joint Council for Qualifications, British Council and the Department for International Trade.
The main purpose of the group was to work together to support the implementation of the UK’s International Education Strategy (IES) and to showcase our education system and grow our international business.
In my role as Chair, it was a privilege to represent the group on the DTI’s Education Sector Advisory Board. It was a very rewarding role and it was great to see how young people benefitted from international study which helped widen their perspective, better understand and experience other cultures and also helped build independence and resilience.
Why is education, and having a role within this sector, important to you?
I am a passionate supporter of FE and have always been in every role I have taken throughout my career in education.
I have seen young people come through the system at 16 who have challenging circumstances, have not been able to thrive, not because they are not motivated but because they have needed the right support. No matter what educational or training path a student wants to go down, an FE College provides a new type of learning for students to explore in a supportive environment. I have seen, first hand, how FE changes lives and it is wonderful to see so many people go on and achieve success and excel in adult life.
Colleges make a difference to our students’ life chances and when I look at Cheshire College specifically, our vocational training is fantastic and equips each student to succeed and achieve what they set out to accomplish.
As you’ve worked in education and training for the majority of your career so far, we’re curious – what would you say are the standout qualities of Cheshire College?
The College is close to employers and understands not only what employers are looking for when they recruit but also what the UK’s economy needs to be highly productive. The College works hard to ensure that the education and training it offers provides young people and adults with the knowledge, skills and experiences they will need to go on to have successful careers. The College has also secured significant investment to update its estate and teaching and learning resources. For example, at Crewe campus the College has just developed a hospital ward which can be used to develop health care skills for those wishing to progress into the nursing and other allied professions. At Ellesmere Port the hair and beauty room has been redeveloped and the College currently has government support for an Institute of Technology which will provide qualifications for those wishing to study at higher technical levels.
The College has also put together a strong programme of courses and a team of supportive staff who are confident in how they can continue to help students move forward into a sustainable future.
In 2023, you were made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year’s Honours List. What was that experience like?
Yes – what a wonderful surprise!
I received an email from the Cabinet Office which said, ‘You must read this letter and answer by Friday.’ I had to read it about three times before it sunk in, and sometimes even now I still can’t believe it.
I had been honoured before (with an OBE) so I never in a million years expected anything like that to happen again.
In terms of life outside of your role, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I have to say my passion is learning and I am a constant student myself. My enjoyment is all about what more can I learn.
Whether it be short courses or a single lecture, I am curious about the world and keen to explore new topics and keep myself updated with the latest thinking on a range of subjects.
The most recent programme I attended was a 12-week course on the Persian empire, all online with a live lecturer and some home reading. I’m not sure what I will sign up for next!
I am also kept busy with my voluntary work which includes working with the Royal British Legion.
Looking ahead to this academic year, how would you say our staff, students and Governors can best support each other this year?
There is an open culture I love about Cheshire College, and it aligns with my personal mantra that you can always improve and do things better.
We are a brilliant College and have fantastic students, but it is important we do not rest on our laurels. We need to look ahead and see what we can do to make things even better for our staff and students and ensure we continuously improve.
Thanks for your time, Lesley. It was lovely to get to know you more and we’re looking forward to seeing you around Campus!