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Corporate Governance

Ensuring the smooth running of Activate Learning.

Become a governor

Corporate governance structure

The Activate Learning Corporation Board is responsible for providing strategic leadership, oversight, and accountability to the Activate Learning Group.

The board sets the strategic direction of the group and appoints senior post-holders, who are responsible for day-to-day leadership and management.

By setting a clear mission, strategic objectives, and robust progress measures, the board can:

  • ensure the solvency of members of the Activate Learning Group
  • safeguard public funds and assets in our care
  • ensure sustainable, high-quality provision that meets the needs of our local communities.

The Activate Learning Corporation Board has adopted a structure of governance based on a Carver, policy-driven model, and therefore focuses on outcomes and impact (the ‘ends’), whilst ensuring that all other statutory requirements are effectively met. 

Find out more about the Framework for Governance.

Leadership

Sue Sturgeon Chair of the Corporation

My name's Sue Sturgeon, and I'm the Chair of Activate Learning. Well, I retired from my substantive position in 2017. I was the chief executive officer of Guildford Borough Council, which is a £150 million business with about 800 staff. I joined Guildford College about six years ago and when we merged with Activate Learning in 2018, I became the link governor from Guildford, who joined the board.

They asked me to join as I was somebody who had been to Guilford College in the late seventies and I was somebody who struggled at school; I did not like school, it didn't work for me. Yet when I joined Guildford College to do A Levels there, I really thrived. What made the difference was that there was somebody that believed in me and inspired me, and it really made me want to work and to learn. I went on to do Accountancy in my career.

I became the Chair of Activate Learning about 18 months ago and we've gone through a period of managing two of the mergers that took place just before I joined. I think we've made a lot of positive progress, but there's lots more work to be done. I think I've really been able to add value in that work. We've also, throughout 2021, been going through a process of appointing a new CEO as our former CEO, Sally, retired in 2022.

Gary Headland CEO

My name is Gary Headland and I was proud to be appointed as the CEO of Activate Learning and co-chair of the Activate Learning Education Trust on 1 April 2022.

Prior to this appointment, I was CEO of the Lincoln College Group for seven and a half years, responsible for colleges in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire as well as international operations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and China.

I hold voluntary offices as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Lincolnshire and President of the Royal British Legion in Lincolnshire. I am also a non-executive director and chair of a cyber security company called KryptoKloud Ltd.

Prior to joining the education sector, I was a Director of Northgate Public Services for three and a half years, a Director at Norfolk Constabulary for over two years and a senior Royal Air Force officer for 23 years serving in locations throughout the UK and overseas in Germany, Italy and the Middle East.

I believe that lifelong learning is vitally important and so I have underpinned my public and private sector career spanning over 35 years with high-quality education and training. I hold an MA from Kings College London, an MBA from the Open University Business School and a Level 7 qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). I am in the final throes of becoming a Chartered Director which is a Level 7 qualification awarded by the Institute of Directors (IoD).

I am a Fellow of the IoD and qualified previously as a Fellow of both the CIPD and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Transforming lives through the delivery of exceptional and highly-relevant education, and meeting the needs of our local communities, are my passions.

Committee chairs

Andy Stone Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee

I run an AV consultancy business. We design primarily theatres and television studios. We're working mainly in the education sector, the higher-education sector. I've been a governor of Activate Learning for two and a half years, and prior to that I was a governor of Bracknell and Wokingham College. I was involved in the merger with Activate.

Most of my work is in the education sector and it just felt a good time to be able to give something back to the community and really get involved in the local college. I think the main thing I've be doing at Activate Learning is trying to use my industry experience to help the college, so I've done a number of projects working with Creative Media and Performing Arts within the college. Most recently, I've helped out on the theatre conversion at Reading, so new projects in association with Reading Rep theatre.

David Goosey Vice Chair of the Corporation and Chair of the Remuneration Committee

I had 20 years with BP and then in 2020, I took on the role of chief executive of a clean tech start-up near Oxford. I'm now working as an independent advisor to business. I'm also treasurer and founder of a woodland and educational charity in West Berkshire.

I've been a governor now since 2019, I started just as we went into lockdown. Given my business background, I'm really conscious of just how important talent development is for businesses and the country to be successful. I'm also a father of two kids and really conscious of how important the right education is to enable us all to make the best of who we are. The one thing I love about the role of governor is the breadth of topics we have been involved in. Last year, I was also asked to become vice chair, so I've been working very closely with Sue and the rest of the board, but one thing I particularly enjoy doing is working with Fiona Stilwell and the apprenticeship scheme. Fiona and I are particularly busy on employer engagement to help really make sure that the training and education that we provide matches what employers are looking for and also to help improve the employability of all of our students.

Emma Shipp Chair of the Search and Governance Committee

My name's Emma Shipp and I've been a governor of Activate Learning since 2019. In my professional job, I'm a solicitor. I've got 30 years' experience of corporate transactions, commercial contracts, and I've also sat on boards and chaired boards in the legal sector.

Activate Learning is the first education institution I've been a part of, and what really drew me in was The Learning Philosophy. I think it’s a fantastic draw for people. Furthermore, the enthusiasm of the staff and the passion that I've seen throughout the time I've been here has been absolutely amazing.

I sit on the Audit and Risk committee, and I also get involved in other projects for Activate Learning. My first couple of years here, I wasn't really able to meet people, but even so, the passion that people had really came across, even virtually.

Now we can get out and about, I'm able to go round colleges and meet people. That passion's coming across even more! From the zoo at Merrist Wood, to the furniture at Oxford...I mean, they’re just such fantastic facilities! I'm really committed to treasuring that for the future.

Governors

Alison Blight Governor

My name is Alison Blight. I was attracted to Activate Learning primarily because my youngest son successfully completed GCSE and Electrical Installation courses at the City of Oxford College and later at the technology campus at Blackbird Leys. I saw how motivated the staff were; they  really enabled him to build important skills for a worthwhile career as a fully qualified electrician.

I felt I could contribute as a Governor using my career experience from the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office where I worked with large, complex organisations in health and social care.

In 2010 I was responsible to the Care Services Minister in the Department of Health reporting on adult social care across the South East. More recently I worked for social care directors in the region co-ordinating their response to Covid.

I understood from this work that further education colleges such as Activate Learning are vital to provide staff who have the right core values for caring work and who have been well trained.

In addition, I have an interest in mental health with 10 years’ experience as a Trustee and Chair of Restore, a mental health rehabilitation charity based in Oxfordshire.

My personal and professional experience is closely aligned to the values and aims of Activate Learning. I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the organisation as a Governor.

Cathie Prest Governor

Hi, my name is Cathie Prest.

I have enjoyed a long and extensive career in further education and became a co-opted governor for Activate Learning in April 2022. My passion for further education began when I became a student at my local technical college many years ago, and this has continued into my retirement.

I’ve held a number of Executive roles, including interim Principal, Deputy Principal and Vice Principal Curriculum and Standards in various further education colleges. I serve as a co-opted governor on the board of Buckinghamshire College Group, having previously been an independent member on two corporation boards, East Surrey College and Guildford College. In addition, I was the Vice-Chair of the Standards Committee for Surrey Police Authority.

For ten years, and until my retirement in July 2021, I managed my own management consultancy company and provided bespoke coaching for senior leaders, curriculum and quality reviews, inspection preparation, and interim senior leadership and management. I was an additional Ofsted inspector for nine years before being appointed an FE Adviser for the Further Education Commission in 2017 until July 2021.

My belief is that further education should be of high quality and accessible to all. I hope that I can utilise my knowledge and experience of the further education sector for the benefit of students attending Activate Learning’s group of colleges.

Dan Willis Staff Governor

Hello, my name is Daniel Willis.

I am the Group Contact Centre Manager at Activate Learning. My team look after customer enquiries via both telephone and email, alongside application processing received on our websites and in person.

In terms of my background, I have worked and studied at Reading College and Activate Learning since 2013 and have the unique advantage of having seen both sides of the organisation, as a student and as a staff member.

Alongside my day-to-day role, I am also the staff governor and have been in this role since December 2021.

I became a governor as I had a lot to give in terms of my perspective and experience, which I felt would be an asset to our governing body. From a personal perspective, I also wanted to gain further insight and understanding into strategic thinking and planning to help progress my career further.

Currently, I am still finding my feet in the role, but I hope to have real impact in the coming months with the potential of myself becoming a link governor for sustainability.

This will entail ensuring that we are meeting our sustainability key driver: I’ll be working with staff, students, and employers to make sure that everything we do takes into consideration the impact on our local and global environment.

James Voûte Link Governor: Schools

Hello, my name is James Voûte and I’m delighted to be a governor for Activate Learning.

I became a governor in October 2021 because I was motivated to make a difference to young people’s education and to help them succeed. I’m a sales and marketing leader in the publishing industry and have a strong professional interest in digital learning.

Since joining Activate Learning I’ve been greatly impressed by the passion and engagement of our staff and students, and the very high standard of facilities across our campuses. I’m also a link governor for the Activate Learning Education Trust, so I’m particularly focused on the performance of the seven schools in our portfolio.

Kathy Slack Link Governor: Employer Engagement

I joined Activate Learning as a governor in December 2020 and am the Link Governor on stakeholder engagement and careers. I also sit on the Search and Governance Committee and the Remuneration Committee.

I am the Chair of the Surrey Research Park (SRP) Board. SRP is the fourth largest research and science park in the UK, with over 130 innovative companies based on over 70 acres. The Park is part of the University of Surrey with crucial links to research, provision of work experience, and jobs. The provision of skills continues to be a top demand of companies in the Park.

I was the chief executive of Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership until the end of July 2022. At EM3, I worked with others to create the environment for businesses to grow and flourish across Hampshire and Surrey, securing over £250m to support innovation, skills, and infrastructure improvements.

I have a passion for joining up people and initiatives and was the lead CE for Catalyst South, an alliance of six LEPs that championed the importance of the business community across the South. I was also the cluster lead for the four growth hubs supporting businesses in Hants, Surrey, Berks, Solent, Sussex, and Brighton.
I have nearly forty years of experience working with businesses and people to support economic growth, first in helping the long-term unemployed get jobs, then in supporting young adults get training and assisting businesses to start up, scale up and grow.

I spearheaded the first skills strategy the South East England Development Agency produced and championed work to get girls in schools interested in IT careers. I'm passionate about achieving greater diversity on boards and in teams. I was honoured to see my work on economic development across the South of England recognised when I received an OBE in 2017.

I live in Oxfordshire, enjoy the local countryside, and unwind in my garden.

Lesha Chetty Governor

Hello, my name is Lesha Chetty.

I currently lead the local government sector, arts, culture and heritage, and sports and leisure sectors for Mace Consulting, across the UK.

I wanted to work with Activate Learning as I feel really passionate about education and the role that we as a community have in educating others. I'm actually local to Oxford, and I think there's a real opportunity for us to actually integrate learning, training, and skills more in terms of what we're doing in the community and how we actually drive that message home.

Within the role that I do in the local government sector, my focus is really on social value. Skills and training are such a huge part of the way that we can actually transform places and communities, so for me, I feel really passionately about it.

Meheryar Khan Co-opted Governor: Audit and Risk Committee

Hi, I'm Meheryar. I'm currently a manager at Ernst & Young LLP, delivering audit and assurance services to a number of clients, from start-ups to FTSE 350 and global businesses.

My experience is significantly technical, particularly in the reporting and auditing areas, as well as dealing with environments subject to high levels of change and helping teams navigate through evolving landscapes. I've worked with the company since 2014, having started a graduate program with Ernst & Young, following completion of a BSc in Accounting and Finance. I'm also qualified as a Chartered Accountant, receiving my qualification with the ICAEW in 2015.

I believe that being a governor will provide me with a unique opportunity and insight into the education industry, as well as being part of an organisation that contributes greatly to society. The ability to have an impact on the future of students has encouraged me to become involved with Activate Learning.

In my private life, my interests include both the automotive and aerospace industry. I'm a regular attendee of car and air shows.

Natalia Malczewska Student Governor

I am a student at Activate Learning on the Reading campus. I am currently studying A Levels  in psychology, criminology and English literature and language, and additionally took on the EPQ project. In the future, I hope to expand my knowledge in psychology and criminology and am planning to go to university to begin my future career as a forensic psychologist. Some of my interests include learning foreign languages and learning about different cultures, parts of the law and how complex the human mind truly is.

 

In Reading college, I am also part of the Student Leadership Team which helped me expand my leadership and communication skills as I learnt to be inclusive. I learnt a lot about student needs and what they think the colleges strength are and what needs to be developed further. Alongside being a Student and part of the Student Leadership Team, I am also a Student Governor for Activate Learning and have been since September 2023.

 

I became a Student Governor as I wanted to represent the student voice and contribute to the board’s understanding of students commendations and concerns. With this role, I wanted to learn what it takes in order for colleges to run smoothly including planning, strategies, finance and organisation skills, and what joins all Activate Learning colleges together. I am still new to the role but with every session I gain more knowledge on what it takes to be a governor. In the upcoming months I am keen to work with the staff, students and governors in order to help improve all the Activate Learning colleges to enhance the student experience.

Smitha Nair Governor

Smitha is currently a finance manager at bp, delivering the commercial, financial and performance agenda for a business unit within Castrol. Her experience has almost always been in the business, taking part in key decisions to deliver strategic objectives.

Smitha was a Governor previously with a senior school, before joining Activate in Dec 2023. The opportunity with Activate has broadened her knowledge and experience in the education sector. She has always been passionate about education – in particular women’s education. As someone who is the first female to attend University in her family, she is deeply aware of the positive impact education can have on an individual’s life. And so, the Governor’s role is something she cares about deeply as it has the potential to influence the lives of young people. She hopes that her passion for education, life experiences and business & commercial knowledge will benefit the communities that Activate operates in.

Activate Learning is a Further Education Corporation, registered under the Further and Higher Education Act (1992) on 01 April 2003, as Oxford and Cherwell College. The Corporation was renamed Oxford and Cherwell Valley College on 17 August 2005 and became Activate Learning on 01 September 2013.

Activate Learning is an exempt charity under Part 3 of the Charities Act 2011 and until July 2016 was regulated by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills as Principal Regulator for all Further Education (FE) Corporations in England, and since July 2016 has been regulated by the Secretary of State for Education.

The Activate Learning Group includes Activate Enterprises Ltd, Activate Investments Ltd and the Activate Learning Education Trust, of which Activate Learning is a Member.

Activate Learning is a member of the Activate Learning Education Trust (company number: 08707909)