Ruth Spellman made history in 2012 when she was appointed chief executive of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), becoming the first woman to hold the role since the organisation’s foundation in 1903. There was a sense of a destiny being fulfilled: Spellman had already followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather by lecturing at the renowned institution.
Spellman has dedicated her working life to lifelong learning. Her early career in the public sector saw her lead the HR consulting practice at Coopers and Lybrand before becoming HR director at the NSPCC, modernising the organisation’s approach to staff development. She went on to lead Investors in People before becoming the first female chief executive of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, where she championed diversity in the industry.
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In 2007, Spellman was awarded an OBE for services to workplace learning. Her focus while at the helm of the WEA has been working to reverse the decline of adult learning, spearheading partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, the University of Warwick and the Open University. She was instrumental in developing the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education and, last year, became a member of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education.
She retired from the WEA in 2019 but hasn’t stopped advocating for the sector she loves, serving as a board member of the charity Adviza, the Open University and the Learning and Work Institute.
The judges said: “Ruth has given her life to FE: she’s a worthy winner and is well regarded by all who have had the pleasure of working alongside her.”