A London college principal described as “exceptional” and “outstanding” has died after a long illness.

FE sector leaders have paid tribute to Paul Head (pictured), who had been principal of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London since 2009, and its predecessor, the College of North East London, since 2002.

According to the college, Mr Head died on Wednesday with his family by his side following an extended leave of absence from work. He had battled with cancer.

Jane O’Neill, interim principal of Haringey, Enfield and North East London College, described him as a “warm, vibrant and hugely personable”, adding: “Paul was passionate about raising the educational aspirations and opportunities for young people and adults living in North East London.

“Paul’s energy and commitment extended beyond the College and he had an impact on the sector as a whole.”

Mr Head joined the College of North East London in 2001 having worked in the higher education sector for 15 years, latterly at Thames Valley University.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Paul was an exceptional man and an outstanding principal who, through his superb work at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, changed thousands of Londoners’ lives.

“He was also a powerful advocate for college students on a national basis. For example, in 2011 he worked exceptionally hard to ameliorate Government decisions on ESOL which would have affected the most vulnerable students. Paul was one of our best leaders and he will be sorely missed by us all.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “Paul was a key and committed member of 157 group. I knew Paul primarily through his courageous leadership in Conel from 2008 and  his fabulous support of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership.

“His dedication to his college through staff and students was exemplary, and legendary. His intelligence, his humour and his quickness were impressive but most of all his integrity was profound.

“He advised me on many occasions and I always learned from and listened to his wisdom. Along with many others I miss him hugely and give thanks that such a wonderful professional and human being graced my professional life.”

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  1. Alex Louis

    This is extremely sad news for all those who knew Paul. The best leaders are those who understand that leadership is something you work at every day and Paul worked exceptionally hard to do the right thing for students, staff and the wider community every single moment. He believed that students should have the opportunities further education gave him, and demonstrated that belief in his determination to always put the needs of students first. It was a great pleasure and a privilege to work for and with him.

  2. Joseph Sefain

    I was sad to hear that Paul has passed away, I remember him and met him twice few years ago, I thing he is an exceptional man;my thought to his family,staff and student. May his soul Rest In Peace.

  3. George Trow

    Paul was an exceptional leader who inspired many staff and students, he will be a sad loss to the sector. I have many occaisions that I can recall when he simply did the right thing well. A true professional.

  4. Trevor Phillips

    I was a student activist with Paul and he was a great friend. I later worked for NATFHE and UCU and I know his reputation was very high throughout all parts of the FE sector, as a highly talented man dedicated to improving opportunities for all put particularly for the working class. I am very saddened by such a premature loss.

    • We at the Jisc RSC London were shocked and saddened to hear that Paul had passed away. We had worked with him for many years both during his time as Chair of our advisory group and through the support we offered to his former College of North East London and the most recently merged colleges. Paul was a person who was hard not be immediately admired for his vision and conviction with which he carried himself. A great loss to the sector. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

  5. Leslie Brissett

    I had the pleasure of being on the panel that appointed Paul as Principal of CONEL after Ian McWhinnie. As Deputy Chair I worked with him in the early days of his leadership journey. He lives in my mind as a force of nature, dynamic and magnetic, with humour, speed of thought and strong political sense. He never lost the “common touch”, keeping ordinary people at the centre, and was able to carve a complex political situation in the way he would carve the flesh from a cow!
    He was full of life and energy, evidenced by his cycling passion, he was a pleasure to work with.
    Wishing his family strength and comfort in the days and years ahead.

  6. Katerina Vavitsa

    I’ve just learned the sad news of Paul Head’s untimely death. I am shocked and deeply saddened. I met Paul Head when I was a lecturer at COHENEL. I would often see him in the corridors of the college smiling, greeting and talking to students and staff. At first, I thought he was a lecturer as I had never seen a man of his status and position being so simple, so approachable, so good natured. When I found out he was the Principal of the college I simply could not believe it.
    I am extremely upset by the news. Paul Head undoubtedly belonged to these exceptional people who, once you meet them, leave a lasting impression on you and you always talk about them with great respect and admiration.
    I will remember him as an extremely kind and warm hearted person who will be greatly missed.
    My heartfelt condolences to his family.

  7. Mike Jolliffe

    I have only just found out that Paul has died, and am in shock. I went to Newbury College, with Paul, and we took A levels together. In his first year he was really quite, and then suddenly found his political voice.

    I well always remember him shouting “Siege Heil” at a right wing candidate in the student elections.

    Above all I remember him being a big Yes fan, and we spent many an hour at the local pub the Clock Tower, listening to their great jukebox.

    After my own battle with Cancer, I find his passing even more upsetting. My thoughts are with his family at this really sad time. God bless Paul.

  8. Sorry, but only recently heard the sad news of Paul’s untimely death. I was fortunate to meet Paul when I worked for the Centre For Excellence in Leadership (CEL). At the end of a year-long development programme, four teams of college managers delivered the results of their research projects to Paul and others. I hadn’t had the privilige of facilitating during the year but was certainly there for the presentations – a blisteringly hot day that summer term.

    Paul listened intently for the whole day and was clearly captivated by the whole thing. At the end of the proceedings he said something that has stayed with me ever since (and always will).

    Firstly he congratulated the teams on their efforts and praised their diligence. But then he said ‘Thank you. Today, you have changed the way I think’. Wow! The project teams were visibly taken aback. But words weren’t enough for Paul – he went on to reinforce them with a substantial cash grant to each project team with instructions to bring their ideas to fruition.

    Sadly our involvement ended there (perhaps it shouldn’t have) and I never witnessed the final results.

    Paul could have walked on water that day. His personality and behaviour embodied and exuded leadership in a way that I have not seen elsewhere.

    On a personal note, in one afternoon Paul changed the way I think and for that I will remain eternally grateful. RIP.