The highest-paid principal in the country, who led a college which is under investigation after it found an unexplained deficit of around £6 million, has retired with immediate effect.

Judith Doyle stepped down from her role at Gateshead College on December 31.

FE Week understands Doyle had previously informed the board of her intention to retire at the end of this academic year.

A spokesperson for Gateshead College said the decision to bring this forward was “hers in the belief that it was in the college’s best interests to step aside now enabling the new three-year plan to be delivered by the team with the support of the ESFA and FE Commissioner”.

In December, FE Week revealed an investigation had been launched at the college following an unexplained deficit in the last financial year.

It was also understood that its finance director went on sick leave after the finding.

Doyle has spent 33 years in the FE sector and was appointed principal of Gateshead in 2013, having previously held the position of deputy principal.

The college received an ‘outstanding’ grade from Ofsted following a full inspection in July 2015.

Prior to this, Doyle was a student at the college and then worked as a part time English teacher.

She was the highest paid college leader, according to published accounts last year, receiving a salary of between £340,001 and £350,000.

The college previously told FE Week that “the published accounts take into account an accrual for a remuneration scheme payable in respect of a three-year period”. Her salary for 2019/20 was set at £252,000.

Deputy principal Chris Toon has taken over as acting principal with immediate effect.

John McCabe, chair of the board of governors at Gateshead College, said: “We are really sorry to see Judith retire and are very proud of her many achievements at Gateshead College.

“I know I am joined by the board, her colleagues from across the college, the FE sector and wider North East region when I say she’ll be greatly missed.

“Gateshead College means everything to Judith. She has worked here for such a long time and her dedication, strength of leadership and sense of team has had a huge impact on the college, her staff and colleagues and the thousands and thousands of students that have passed through the doors on her watch.”

Doyle was made a CBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours in 2018.



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8 Comments

  1. Bob Smith

    I wonder if she’s paid back the huge bonus she received for her allegedly amazing performance? Shocking.

    If you’re prepared to put yourself out there as the highest paid, you need to front up and do the noble thing when you’re uncovered.

    I find it disgusting that her, and many of the team remaining are paid so much money. It’s completely out of line with what other successful colleges pay and seriously needs to be addressed. Just hope the FE commissioner feels the same way.

    • And remember her pension will be based on her salary in that year so she will benefit for the next 40 years at the cost of the college and tax payers such as us.

      Another failure rewarded by honours and a lifelong pension. There is no accountability in FE anymore

    • Grace smith

      I agree 100% She has taken the rewards but none of the responsibility. So many peoples lives now adversely affected. Whole families in financial hardship because of jobs lost. Whatever happened to integrity?

  2. Philip Gorst

    The problem with all of these ‘scandals’ is that the colleges are self-governing, so, by definition, if the CEO gets a big salary, the expectation filters down to every other layer, otherwise, it does not look ‘fair’.
    Why not a £60k basis for all college heads and then performance related bonus based on results, student reviews, Ofsted (god forbid).
    Won’t happen………Pandora’s box is already open.
    Nothing was clearly learned from the Halton College scandal, now more than 20 years ago.

    • Matt Wallace-Wells

      Philip, you are absolutely correct that governance is one of the key problems behind these scandals. I tried to have a discussion with our ESFA contact at a recent meeting which went along the lines of who actually governs FE colleges? I work for a large local authority provider and we are not only part of the council but we also have an internal board of governors (including elected members and corporate directors) who performance manage us.

      I am not saying that this is perfect but at least there is strong oversight into the use of public funds

  3. Professor Bill Wardle

    I wonder if we can have sense of perspective here: and which
    might drift towards justice and empathy?

    Once again we have the headline ousting of a CEO, probably masking the reality and complexity of a situation in which collective rather than individual responsibility lies at its heart. Plekhanov’s seminal pamphlet (1898) on the role of an individual in history had as its purpose the isolation of actions from outcomes, the setting of context; and the understanding of the role and influence of key individuals. Contemplating the descent of another high profile college into financial turmoil, we are reminded of the need to maintain perspective and neither exaggerate nor exonerate the roles and influence of college leaders. Media frenzy (driven by sales) looks for culprits, its headlines obscuring plural realities and emphasising singular salaries.

    Properly, we await the Commission’s findings on Gateshead College, though the protocols of intervention appear to encompass, prematurely, pre-judgement, accountability and blame. At the same time, we can hold on to some ‘givens’, namely:
    that college finances do not normally fall down a ‘sinkhole’.of £6m, and certainly not in the case of a high-performing institution, where recruitment, retention and achievement were recorded as being at flagship levels;
    that there has been a sudden contract collapse or loss;
    that there hasn’t been the pursuit of the sort of vanity projects…new build or New Delhi…that have undermined other colleges’ financial stability;
    and that, presumably, nobody has run off with the petty cash (all £6m of it!).

    So, where are we? Our other ‘knowns’ are:
    that accounts had previously and serially been signed-off as sound by internal and external audit;
    that no audit warnings had been either signalled or ignored. Such malpractice would have been drawn to the attention of a clearly engaged Corporation by auditors and involved external funding agencies, banks, Commission etc.

    We are left to speculate with the ‘unknowns’. If there isn’t income collapse, then budget failure is likely. Step forward the most high profile repeat offender: staffing costs, particularly part-time staffing, where approval may not be watertight. This is compounded if there is a reporting failure.

    The CEO, as Lead Accounting Officer, has to carry the can. In this case, as in every one, the CEO is as competent and in control as the information provided/reported. The CEO is an intermediary, dependent on reporting systems judged as adequate by auditors and governors. Information will have been received and reported diligently. The deception is collective, compromising Executive, Corporation, funding agencies and auditors.

    From each case-study….Bradford, West Notts, Hull… there are specific circumstances and yet commonality. The failure of the institution is not dynastic, the culpability of an individual, but systemic. Institutions, and their stakeholders, are unable to identify where reporting is inadequate and inaccurate. They react when it is highly visible, but too late. The knee-jerk is to put the CEO in the headlights, identifying a victim not a perpetrator.