Success story of a late learner

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Joe Clancy looks at the career of Jacqui Henderson, a miner's daughter who left school at 15 to become a top player in FE

She is a miner's daughter from the North-east who left school at 15 with no qualifications and little hope of achieving her ambition of becoming a teacher.

Today, Jacqui Henderson calls time on a 30-year career during which she held some of the top jobs in further education and was awarded the CBE for her work.

She is bowing out as director of the London region of the Learning and Skills Council at the age of 66, handing over the reins to David Hughes, the LSC's East Midlands regional director.

He will be continuing the debate she began with London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, who is seeking to add control of post-16 education and training in the capital to his list of powers.

The battle over who is best to run the skills agenda in London is just one of many struggles she has had with politicians and senior civil servants.

Prior to joining the LSC in London, she was chief executive of the national council of Training and Enterprise Councils, where she took a leading role in the management and supply of the 72 TEC services throughout England.

Her job involved frequent meetings with education ministers in an attempt to get the best financial deal possible for colleges and training companies.

It was a far cry from when she left school in the Northumberland mining town of Ashington, home of soccer legends Jack and Bobby Charlton and Jackie Milburn, to take a job in a local chemist's shop half a century ago.

"I had ambitions to be a teacher but it wasn't possible for me within my family environment," she said. "My parents thought educating girls was a waste of money."

But 12 years later, by this time a wife and mother of two, she read something in the local paper, the Evening Chronicle, which was to change the course of her life.

"I read about a woman just like me who had returned to education because she wanted to teach. Until then I didn't think it was possible. I thought that, if you missed out at 16 and 18, that was it. I didn't realise there were other chances.

"That is why I feel so strongly about further education. It does provide people with chances to achieve success and feel good about themselves."

Her chance happened at Northumberland college where she sat and passed seven O-levels after a year of study, before taking an access course that led to a place at a polytechnic in Newcastle to study education.

Three years later, armed with her degree, she began teaching in primary schools before, at the age of 39, she took a job at South Tyneside college.

After 10 years, during which she was involved in setting up courses for the unemployed, she became an FE adviser for Northumberland County Council and was seconded to help set up the local training and enterprise council.

Two of her most notable achievements, she said, were the introduction of a modular system of qualifications based on credit units and the securing of cash bonuses for students who completed their courses.

Seven years ago, she came to London as the TECs' chief executive. She described working in the capital as a "fabulous" experience. "It is second to none in terms of exhilaration and challenge. I feel I have achieved some very positive things in my career but now it is time to move on to the next phase of my life.

"I would like to continue working in FE because that is my passion, but doing what exactly, I don't know. I am open to offers."

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