Queen honours FE's first knight

Her Majesty rewards staff, working at all levels, for their commitment to the sector. Harvey McGavin reports

TWO principals given the tough task of turning round failing colleges were rewarded for their services to further education in the Queen's birthday honours list.

George Sweeney, the principal of Knowsley College on Merseyside, but currently on secondment to Sheffield College, becomes the first college principal to be knighted. And Alan Birks of South Birmingham College, who last year temporarily took charge of Bilston Community College, Wolverhampton. is made a CBE.

Susan Pember, principal of Canterbury College and a member of the Further Education Funding Council, receives an OBE, while David Moyes, assistant principal of Anniesland College, Dumbartonshire, and Alan Skinner, principal of Colchester's Adult Community College, Essex, are made MBEs.

Mr Sweeney was drafted in to Sheffield College six months ago to oversee a rescue plan for the huge and financially troubled Yorkshire college. Governors meet today to consider plans to split the 42,000-student, five-site college into three smaller colleges with a single executive director.

During his 10 years in charge at Knowsley, he has managed a merger, won accredited and beacon college status and presided over huge rises in achievement rates in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country.

Pam Lunt, Knowsley college's assistant principal, said: "He has made an enormous difference to the college, restructuring it from the word go.

"He's a local lad anyway so he is very au fait with our clientele. He empathises with them and he inspires them. He inspires the staff as well - he is a superb leader. But we have all worked very hard together and he sees this very much as a recognition of that."

Mr Birks, principal of South Birmingham College, spent 12 months trying to turn around Bilston Community College after its disastrous inspection report last year, up until its eventual merger with neighbouring Wulfru College to form Wolverhampton college.

"People keep saying 'what did you get that for?' and I'm not really sure," he said of his award. But apart from guiding Bilston through hard times, he has helped South Birmingham triple its enrolments, building a reputation for good industrial relations, widening participation and encouraging adult learners along the way.

"But in many respects that's more to do with my staff than it is me," he added.

Susan Pember said she was "honoured and delighted" to receive her OBE. She began in further education as a lecturer in fashion and textiles 21 years ago at Redbridge College, London and worked as a senior education officer at Enfield council before taking over at Canterbury in 1991. "It's a tribute to all the wonderful people I have worked with over those years."

Pamela Jill Wilson, director of Calderdale and Kirklees Training and Enterprise Council and a Further Education Funding Council member for Yorkshire and Humberside, becomes a CBE.

Robert Hillier, chairman of Hampshire TEC, receives an OBE.

Sheila Carlton, consultant to the adult learners' organisation NIACE, is made an MBE, along with Pamela Christine Stewart, lecturer at Halesowen College, West Midlands; Irene Dilger, a programme leader at Stafford College and Sandra Susan Fairbank, former head of department of community studies at Chichester College.

Chairs of governors John Oliver of Runshaw College, Lancashire, and Christopher Halliday McGhie of Dumfries and Galloway college both received OBEs.

Two of the many unsung heroes of FE were also honoured as Sarah Bannerman, a cleaner and janitor at Cardonald College, in Glasgow, and Jim Atere-Roberts, head of security at Lewisham College in south London, were both made MBEs.

Lewisham principal Ruth Silver said: "Jim handles even the most challenging situations with firmness and tact. He is a great asset to the college and brings some very special qualities to a highly demanding job."


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