All quiet of the Weston front: Hunt for permanent principal drags on

Questions remain over Sir Paul Phillips' president position after stepping down as principal

Questions remain over Sir Paul Phillips' president position after stepping down as principal

Weston College has started the new academic year with an interim boss as the hunt for a permanent successor to England’s former best-paid principal, Sir Paul Phillips, drags on.

Jacqui Ford has been appointed acting principal and chief executive until at least March 2024 following multiple failed attempts to fill the post left by Phillips, who retired over the summer after two decades as leader of the south-western college.

But questions remain over whether Phillips has stayed on at the college in a newly created and remunerated role as president, as previously announced to staff earlier in the year.

The college is now staying tight-lipped over the presidential position after concerns were allegedly raised by prospective successors of the principalship in the past academic year, which a local union leader claimed was “creating a crisis at the college”.

A spokesperson for the college this week refused to confirm or deny whether Phillips has taken up the role of president.

Ford’s appointment comes after the recruitment process for a permanent principal went back to square one in June. The top job was formally offered to Cornwall College Group deputy principal Kate Wills but was revoked under mysterious circumstances.

The president’s role was created earlier this year and governors told staff in memos seen by FE Week that the role was “absolutely key” for governance initiatives and profile bids.

‘Appointment follows exceptional leadership and legacy of Sir Paul Phillips’

Ford was formerly deputy principal for partnerships and led Weston College’s SEND division. Her previous stint at the college spanned over two decades between 1995 and 2020.

At Weston College’s annual academic conference on August 23, Ford unveiled the college’s new management structure, which also showed the departure of three members of the executive team – Leah Palmer, Jo Watson and David Trounce.

Sir Paul Phillips’ son, Joe Phillips, who has worked at the college since 2010, will be Ford’s de facto second-in-command as chief operating officer after being recently promoted.

Ford told conference attendees that the managerial team will be moved around and based in different campuses so that key management personnel will not be “sitting in an ivory tower”.

In a public announcement dated August 23 about Ford’s appointment, Weston College said that “guidance of Sir Paul has been instrumental in shaping this new management framework”.

“This appointment follows the exceptional leadership and legacy of Sir Paul Phillips CBE, who has steered the institution towards remarkable achievements over the past 22 years,” the statement said.

Phillips stepped down officially as principal on August 31. He was England’s highest-paid principal, earning a total package of £362,000 in 2022, according to an analysis of college accounts data.

A Weston College spokesperson told FE Week: “Further to the retirement of Sir Paul Phillips on August 31, the college has implemented a robust interim management structure, which will be ably led by Jacqui Ford and a highly experienced team.”

Wills returns to Cornwall after Weston role mystery

Kate Wills has been re-hired by Cornwall College Group after resigning earlier this year to take the top job at Weston College.

She is now one of two group deputy principals and chief executives, working alongside Mark Wardle who was appointed to replace her to lead on curriculum and quality.

Wills now has senior responsibility as deputy chief for land-based provision, international and higher education at the college group.

After being appointed by Weston’s governors back in May, resigning from her previous role as deputy at Cornwall College Group and being announced to Weston staff, Wills’ offer was mysteriously withdrawn, leaving her without a job.

John Evans, principal and chief executive at Cornwall College Group, has now re-hired Wills on a 12-month contract following Wills’ bruising experience with Weston College.

Evans described Wills as an “exceptional leader” and told FE Week he “doesn’t like to see people treated badly”.

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