Town/location: Beccles, Suffolk
Occupation: National Lead for Apprenticeships and Widening Participation at Health Education England
On the governing board at: Lowestoft Sixth Form College
Current position on the board: Chair of Finance Committee
Favourite pastime: Riding my motorbike through the Suffolk countryside
Why did you decide to serve on an FE governing board?
Volunteering has been part of my life for many years – I have been chair of a Citizens Advice Bureau and a school governing body, for instance. I also spent many years as a director in FE colleges before joining the health service, so there is a natural fit.
In what way has your board contributed to the success of the college?
We are unique in that we are a new college developed on a brownfield site about six years ago. As a governing board we provided continuity, literally getting the college built, appointing senior postholders, and steering it to where it is today, which is very good results and a good Ofsted rating.
This college is important for the region. Lowestoft is an economically poor area with a whole range of issues that go along with being a coastal town. It is a real challenge to improve attainment and levels of aspiration for young people. Through the college we have the mechanism to give young people more life choices than they would have had before.
What skills and experiences have helped you in the role?
Many of the things I do as a governor draw on my experiences as a board member throughout my career. I can manage committees, deal with complicated reports and understand complex data.
I’m fortunate to have a lot of experience of senior executive and operational roles. But the worst thing you can have is a governing board full of people like me. We need a range of skill sets. The aim is to have a group of people with different perspectives who represent the local community and employers. That includes learners and parents.
How has being on the board benefited you personally or professionally?
On a personal level, it is just a really satisfying thing to do. For instance, A level results came out a few weeks ago. It’s good to know I’ve had a part in helping those young people to achieve at the level they have.
Professionally, it’s given me a depth of understanding of the post-16 educational system that I wouldn’t otherwise have, which benefits the work I do for the NHS. It gives me a better context to draw on when talking about apprenticeships, for instance.
What advice would you give to someone new to an FE board?
It’s important to remember the difference between governance and management. We are there to steer and to steward, and the senior management are there to deal with the operational aspect.
There is training and advice all along the way to help new governors understand the role, so take full advantage of that.
It’s also important to understand the context and ethos of the organisation you’re joining. As a sixth form college we have an A level-based, academic curriculum, which is a cross between a school and a large FE experience. Our focus is on preparing students to move to higher education or higher technical training. A big challenge for us is how we work collaboratively with FE colleges in the areas without losing the sixth form ethos that we spent the last few years developing.
The final thing to remember is that, whatever your background, everyone has relevant and useful skills and experience. It’s a case of working out how your skills fit the gaps that particular college has.