High-profile college leader to retire

The well-known leader of a high-profile college has announced his intention to retire after more than 11 years at the helm.

Lowell Williams (pictured), one of the government’s national leaders of further education, will step down from his role as chief executive of Dudley College of Technology in January to “follow new opportunities”.

He will be replaced by the college’s current principal, Neil Thomas.

Dudley College was rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in March 2017 under Williams’ leadership, and secured government backing to create one of the first 12 Institutes of Technology earlier this year.

He will be retained as a strategic advisor to the college’s corporation through to Easter 2020, to help oversee the transition, and said today it has been “such a privilege to work here”.

“I will never forget my time at the college,” he added.

Williams told FE Week he is “not one for the golf course as such” and will continue his roles as chair of trustees of Dudley Academies Trust and chair of the Black Country Living Museum in retirement.

He will also be taking up a position as non-executive director of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, and may “continue doing collaborative work with the west midland colleges”.

The 57-year-old is an FE veteran having worked in the sector for over 30 years. Prior to joining Dudley, he was curriculum manager at Northampton College before becoming deputy principal of Stephenson College and then principal of South Leicestershire College.

He joined Dudley as its leader in 2008. His only notable hiccup came earlier this year when he apologised after an audit exposed data errors that resulted in more than £500,000 being paid back to the government.

He later called for all colleges to receive greater support in navigating the government’s increasingly complex and high-stake audit system.

Reflecting on his time in college leadership, Williams told FE Week: “When I first became a principal nearly 20 years ago there was the opportunity to learn on the job but you were not in nearly as heightened and pressurised environment that we’re in now.

“You had less complexity in an environment of more support. When things didn’t go right immediately you had a chance to develop into the role. The role for new principals now, particularly if they’re not experienced or don’t have support networks around them, is really quite difficult and dangerous.

“You now answer to so many people on so many fronts that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to get everything right all the time.”

Asked what advice he would give to new college principals, Williams said: “My one overriding advice is don’t think you’ve got all the answers. Reach out to every single network you can for support.

“Don’t put yourself in isolation – it’s fine to talk to the college down the road, it’s fine to share your anxieties and problems.”

Following Williams’ departure, Dudley College said it will be appointing a chief operating officer to work alongside and deputise for Thomas, as well as a new vice principal.

“I am absolutely delighted the corporation has decided to appoint Neil as my successor,” Williams said.

“He is very definitely the right person for the job. I have every confidence that he will lead the college from strength to strength.”

He added: “The further education sector continues to be an extremely challenging arena in which to work, but Neil has proven over the years that he has the resilience, skills and ability to deliver successful outcomes for our learners.

“It’s great that a local Dudley boy gets the chance to run this amazing college and to serve his local community.”

Thomas said he was “delighted” to be taking up the reins at a college he has worked at for over 10 years and “which I love and feel so passionate about”.