New year honours 2024: Who got what in FE and skills?

SFCA boss Bill Watkin receives a gong alongside four college principals and two WorldSkills medal winners

SFCA boss Bill Watkin receives a gong alongside four college principals and two WorldSkills medal winners

29 Dec 2023, 22:30

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College principals, senior SEND leaders and two WorldSkills UK gold medallists are among the recipients of the 2024 new year honours for services to further education and skills. 

This year’s honours list includes four CBEs, nine OBEs, eight MBEs and one British Empire Medal for sector figures, but no knighthoods or damehoods. 

The leader of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), Bill Watkin, has been made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) alongside the principal and CEO of The Sheffield College, Angela Foulkes, and the principal and CEO of Middlesbrough College, Zoe Lewis. 

Honours recipient Bill Watkin
Bill Watkin CBE

Watkin, who has led SFCA since 2016, said it is “a privilege to accept this award on behalf of a lot of very special colleagues and friends.”

“It is hard to convey the extent to which this award reflects my extraordinarily good fortune to work with the most talented, dedicated and hard-working SFCA team in the service of the most successful, generous and warm family of sixth form college leaders,” he added.

The Sheffield College principal and CEO Angela Foulkes took the helm in 2017 when the college, recently graded ‘good’, was rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted.

She said: “I joined the college when it was facing some challenges. Working with staff, governors, students and other stakeholders, we have got the college back on track so that it is now a highly valued part of the social fabric of our wonderful city.

“This CBE is a recognition of our collective effort, the distance that we have travelled together and the hard work of hundreds of people. I am incredibly proud to have been awarded it.”

Lewis, who has been principal and CEO of Middlesbrough College for ten years, told FE Week she was “touched and humbled” on being made a CBE. “It is truly a privilege to work alongside so many amazing colleagues who make such a positive difference to students and our wider communities every day,” she said. 

Awarding and SEND leaders made OBEs

Honours recipient Heather Akehurst OBE
Heather Akehurst OBE

Among the newly titled Officers of the British Empire (OBEs) is Heather Akehurst, chief executive of Open Awards, Virginia Barrett, principal and chief executive of Farnborough College of Technology and Anthony Bravo, principal of Basingstoke College of Technology. 

Akehurst was made an OBE for services for further education in Merseyside. She has been chief executive of Open Awards, based in Liverpool, for ten years and is a board member of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Freeport and Liverpool John Moores University Students’ Union. 

“It was a wonderful surprise to hear that I was receiving an OBE,” Akehurst told FE Week. “None of what we do is possible without our amazing providers across a broad spectrum from colleges to schools to specialist provision to independent training providers, employers and the voluntary sector – it is their hard work that continues to inspire me and all of us at Open Awards,” she said.

Also being made an OBE is Elaine Dale, director of SEND support at City College Norwich. Dale joined the college in 2011 and leads its SEND centre of excellence. 

“Education wasn’t easy for me with being neurodiverse. At school, I was told that I wouldn’t achieve and I was written off. I could never have imagined my life would turn out the way it has. It’s amazing to have achieved this unbelievable award,” she said.

Joining the ranks of this year’s OBEs is Samantha Mayhew, assistant principal for SEND at Weston College, Darrell Desouza, the former principal and chief executive of Harrow and Uxbridge Colleges and Brian Palmer, the founder and chief executive of Tharsus Group for services to manufacturing and skills.

Gongs for WorldSkills UK medallists

A Nelson and Colne College governor has been awarded an MBE.

Honours recipient Ewan Payne MBE
Ewan Payne MBE

Christine Kenyon, a former deputy principal of The Manchester College, began her career in FE in 1989 as a part-time lecturer at Blackpool and The Fylde College.

“Further education is a door that is always open to everybody regardless of their starting point. My career started with a course at my local further education college and I am a testament to the positive impact that a further education can have on your career aspirations,” Kenyon said.

Two UK gold medal winners from WorldSkills 2022 have been awarded MBEs for services to further education.

James Boyes, who won gold in cabinet-making and Ewan Payne, gold medallist in aircraft maintenance, have been described as “brilliant role models for young people” by WorldSkills UK chief executive Ben Blackledge.

“Their gold medal success on the world stage, in front of a global audience, sends a strong message that the UK has the raw potential and skills system to succeed in a global market,” Blackledge said.    

Honours recipient James Boyce MBE
James Boyes MBE

Also landing an MBE is Youth Employment UK chief executive Laura-Jane Rawlings. The campaigning social enterprise boss said she was “delighted” to have been recognised but told FE Week her organisation’s work was “more important than ever as the youth employment challenges continue to grow.”

And a member of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s construction route panel, Ruth Devine, has also been made an MBE for services to further education and apprenticeships. Devine is also a member of the Construction Leadership Council and chair of the Electrotechnical Skills Partnership.

Devine said: “It’s incredible to receive this award. I’m proud to work with so many amazing people across the industry, further education and government, all dedicated to improving apprenticeships, technical education and careers advice.”


Full list of FE and skills honours

Commanders of the Order of the British Empire

Angela Foulkes, principal and chief executive of The Sheffield College, for services to further education

Zoe Lewis, principal and chief executive, Middlesbrough College, for services to further education

Bill Watkin, chief executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association, for services to further education

Charles Woodburn, chief executive of BAE Systems, for services to international trade and skills development

Officers of the Order of the British Empire

Heather Akehurst, chief executive of Open Awards, for services to further education in Merseyside

Virginia Barrett, principal and chief executive of Farnborough College of Technology, for services to further education

Anthony Bravo, principal of Basingstoke College of Technology, for services to further education

Jayne Clarke, executive principal of Pinnacle Learning Trust, for services to further education

Elaine Dale, director of SEND support at City College Norwich, for services to further education

Darrell Desouza, former principal and chief executive of Harrow College and Uxbridge College, for services to further education

Samantha Mayhew, assistant principal (SEND) of Weston College, for services to further education

Brian Palmer, founder and chief executive of Tharsus Group, for services to manufacturing and skills

John Traynor, former managing director of Go-Ahead London, for services to skills and education in London

Members of the Order of the British Empire

James Boyes, Team UK gold medal winner, WorldSkills UK, for services to further education

Ruth Devine, route panel member, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, for services to further education and apprenticeships

Elizabeth Gorb, director of apprenticeships, Manchester Metropolitan University, for services to education and skills

Christine Kenyon, former deputy principal, The Manchester College, for services to further education

Kathryn Marshall, senior manager at Lloyds Banking Group, for services to further education and skills

Ewan Payne, Team UK gold medal winner, WorldSkills UK, for services to further education

Laura-Jane Rawlings, chief executive of Youth Employment UK, for services to young people

Maureen Vevers, chair of governors at Askham Bryan College, for services to further education

Medallists of the Order of the British Empire

Anita Davenport-Brooke, group HR manager at Lander Automotive, for services to further education and skills

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