The FE sector has been rocked by the news that Peter Roberts, former principal of Leeds City College, has suddenly passed away at the age of 60.
Mr Roberts, a father of two, died on New Year's Eve. He had recently retired from the college after six years as its principal and had spent a total of 38 years working in the education sector.
After a stint as a school PE teacher, Mr Roberts became involved in the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) before entering FE as a coordinator at Selby College. He went on to spend 22 years in the FE sector, and his first job as principal came at Stockport College.
In 2009 he became the first principal and chief executive of the Leeds City College Group, and even after his retirement he continued to lend advice and support to the organisation. He was appointed chair of the 157 Group in 2012, and spent two years in the role. In June 2015, Mr Roberts was made a CBE for services to further education.
In November, Mr Roberts organised an unprecedented letter signed by the chairs of the governing bodies of 130 FE colleges that was addressed to prime minister David Cameron and skills minister Sajid Javid to "try and make the voice of FE heard" in the face of impending government spending cuts.
Bob Harrison, chair of governors at Northern College, education adviser for Toshiba Education Systems and a close friend of Mr Roberts, said the sector would never know if the letter had any effect on the comprehensive spending review. "But without Pete's actions, and without a bit of pressure being put on the skills minister, FE might have suffered a lot more cuts than it did," he added.
Tributes have poured in from friends, former colleagues and students.
Peter was a lovely man and passionate about further education's power to change people's lives. Such a loss. Thinking of his family.— Hilary Benn (@hilarybennmp) January 1, 2016
Shaid Mahmood, chair of Leeds City College's board of governors:
"A much-loved, admired and respected friend, colleague, and mentor for many, his love for Leeds City College and the city of Leeds and his championing of all things FE was surpassed only by his love for his family and his beloved Liverpool Football Club. Funny, lightning quick, intellectually adept and astute and with an incredible touch with people, his passing has left an immeasurable emptiness amongst those of us that knew him that will be difficult to fill. We all in some way walk in the footsteps of giants and we are all the better for having walked in Peter's."
Back to work with a heavy heart after loss of old friend Peter Roberts CBE on New Year's Eve. Such a good man pic.twitter.com/cBLZEllDfd— Bob Harrison (@bobharrisonset) January 4, 2016
Lynne Sedgmore, former executive director of the 157 Group:
"Peter was completely devoted to FE and placed students first in all he did. He was a very special man, loved by so many for his kindness, generosity, humour, quick-mindedness and his constant appreciation. He will be acutely mourned and missed by many, particularly with the shock of his sudden and tragic death so early in his retirement."
Deeply saddened by Peter Roberts' death. A thoroughly decent and principled man and a great boss. You'll Never Walk Alone, Peter.— Bill Jones (@TSC_BillJ) January 2, 2016
Sarah Robinson, 157 Group chair and principal of Stoke on Trent College:
"Peter chaired the 157 Group from 2012 to 2014 and was never afraid to challenge, provoke thought and influence change. He worked tirelessly for the good of FE with genuine concern for students. I, like so many colleagues, have been inspired by his leadership, his sound guidance and sense of humour. I know how deeply his loss will be felt and the thoughts of the 157 Group go out to his family and friends."
Sudden death of Leeds principal Peter Roberts desperately sad & unfair. The most accomplished, funny & least egotistical man you could meet.
— Ian Pryce (@ipryce) January 1, 2016
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges:
"Peter's untimely death comes as a great shock to everyone in the college sector. His passion and hard work on behalf of colleges was well-known to us all. This was exemplified only a few months ago when he galvanised principals and chairs into writing an open letter to the prime minister in advance of the spending review and which made a real difference to the final result. He will be sadly missed."