Leading college hires new principal with no previous FE experience

Stephen Exley

One of the country’s largest colleges has appointed a new principal who has never worked in the FE sector before.

Andrew Cleaves (pictured) will leave his position as a senior executive at transport firm National Express to take up the top job at Birmingham Metropolitan College (BMet) in May.

He is currently managing director of the transport group's international division, having formerly run its Birmingham-based UK coach business. Prior to that, he clocked up 12 years in senior roles at Tube Lines, managing the public-private partnership with Transport for London for infrastructure and maintenance of the tube. During this period, he was part of the team which invested £10 million on a training school for engineering apprenticeships.

This, however, represents his only previous foray into further education, as he has never previously been employed in the sector.

He replaces Dame Christine Braddock, who retires this year after 17 years in the principal’s chair at BMet, formed in 2009, and its predecessor institutions. The college has 50,000 students based across 20 campuses and centres of excellence in the Midlands.

Dame Christine said she was confident Mr Cleaves would be up to the challenge. “When I first met Andrew, you could see he really bought into the partnership approach, and that being able to have a positive impact on the lives of tens of thousands of students was very appealing to him,” she said.

“He really did tick every box we had on our list of potential attributes, and he has a very 'can do' mind set, which sits very well with everyone he has met."

Mr Cleaves first met his predecessor through their work on the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, and said he had been impressed with the college’s work with local employers.

"I feel strongly that education is about equipping youngsters with the correct set of skills and abilities, and also the right mind set, to get them into work, whatever that might be,” he said.

“Christine has led the college through its growth and consolidation phases, and I am keen to continue BMet's process of improvement and growth. Over the last decade it has become a significant employer and economic force in its own right, with 1,500 staff and an annual contribution to the economy of some £500 million.

“We really can drive change and innovation into the education and skills agenda; there is real potential for more public-private training initiatives in this area, and I am confident that the same model can be used in other sectors for the benefit of employers and our students.”

Mr Cleaves is not the first person to take on leadership of a major college with no prior experience of working in the sector. In 2011, former BT executive John Thornhill took over the reins at The Manchester College.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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