President

Our President acts as ambassador for the organisation and the sector and helps drive our policy formation and maintains the profile of further education with ministers and external partners.

Each year members elect a serving college principal to be our President. Their term of office runs from 1 August to 31 July.

  • AoC President 2017/18

    Dr Alison Birkinshaw OBE

    Principal and Chief Executive, York College

    Alison became Principal and Chief Executive of York College in January 2008, having previously been Principal at Nelson and Colne College. Prior to that, she was Deputy Principal at another Lancashire College, Runshaw. She began in FE in 1984 as Music Lecturer at Nelson and Colne College.

    She was awarded an OBE in 2012 and an honorary doctorate from York University in 2017, both for services to education. When she’s not working she enjoy spending time playing the bassoon and contrabassoon, walking in the Lakes or by the coast, swimming or going to opera and the theatre.

  • AoC President 2016/17

    Ian Ashman

    Ian Ashman is President of the Association of Colleges.  He was previously Principal of Hackney Community College, London. Prior to this he worked in private practice, colleges, local government and the voluntary sector.

    Ian was Principal of Hackney Community College between 2007 and 2016.  During this period, Hackney Community College saw significant improvements in student success rates and teaching quality, leading to the first ‘Good’ grade awarded to a college by Ofsted, under the new Common Inspection Framework in 2015.  He led a series of initiatives and increased employer engagement by the College, including the development of a new hospitality centre, facilitating training of 50,000 volunteers for the London 2012 Games and expansion of work with students with significant learning difficulties and disabilities.  He also worked closely with technology companies to implement an innovative Tech City Apprenticeships Programme. . 

    Prior to 2007, Ian was an independent consultant; his projects included supporting quality improvement in colleges developing a Skills Academy for Financial Services, and supporting partnerships with China and India.  He was previously Principal of Lambeth College and a Deputy Principal in Hackney, during which time he developed the ‘world class’ Shoreditch Campus.  He has also worked in local government and the voluntary sector.  Ian has also been Chair of the Association of Colleges London and a member of the London Enterprise Partnership - Skills and Employment Working Group.

    Ian has lived in Hackney, in North East London for 35 years.

  • AoC President (2015/16)

    John Widdowson CBE

    Principal and Chief Executive, New College Durham

    John Widdowson joined New College Durham in August 1998, having previously worked as Vice Principal at Cambridge Regional College for 10 years.  Prior to entering further education, he worked as a lawyer in Local Government.

    As Principal, John has worked to ensure that the College achieves and maintains the highest standards.  At its last inspection by Ofsted, the College was assessed as “Outstanding”. The College is lead sponsor for two Academy schools in County Durham.  In July 2011, the College became one of only three colleges so far to be granted the power to award Foundation Degrees.

    John is Chair of the Mixed Economy Group of Colleges which is made up of nearly 40 colleges all of whom offer significant amounts of Higher Education. John is currently a Director of the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) and was a member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from 2009 to 2014.

    John has published papers and articles on a range of education subjects and has spoken regularly at national and international conferences, focussing in recent years on the challenges of widening participation in higher education and developing college based higher education.

    John was made a CBE in June 2010 for services to further and higher education.

  • Richard Atkins, AoC President

    AoC President (2014/15)

    Richard Atkins CBE

    Principal, Exeter College

    Richard Atkins has been a college principal for 19 years, initially at Yeovil and, since 2002, at Exeter College, which was rated as outstanding by Ofsted in 2012 and 2014. Richard was appointed a CBE in 2016 for this services to further education.

    Before joining Yeovil College Richard worked as a teacher and manager in colleges and schools in York, Surrey and Sussex. Prior to returning to university as a mature student, Richard worked for several years in business in London, mainly at Harrods.

    During the past 14 years Richard has held a number of national roles in further education, including being President of the Association for College Management from 2002 until 2004; a member of Adult Learning Committee from 2004 until 2008; a member of the AoC Board and Deputy Chair between 2007 and 2013; and a Commissioner on CAVTL (Commission for Adult and Vocational Teaching and Learning) from 2012 until 2013.  He is also currently Chair of AoC Sport.

  • Michelle Sutton OBE, Principal, Bradford College

    AoC President (2013/14)

    Michele Sutton CBE

    Principal and Chief Executive, Bradford College

    Michele Sutton became Principal and Chief Executive of Bradford College in August 2004 and was AoC President between 1 August 2013 and 31 July 2014.

    Bradford College caters for approximately 17,000 students and is one of the largest further education colleges in the UK.  The college is very diverse with large numbers of young people (4,000), adults (9,000), higher education students (4,000).  The college has established a multi-Academy Trust and sponsors academies and studio schools.

    For the previous five years, she was Principal and Chief Executive of Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale and prior to that was Vice Principal of City College Manchester and Handsworth College (now City College Birmingham).

    Michele joined further education as a lecturer in business studies in 1980 after 11 years in industry.  She is passionate about the value that further education colleges bring both to individuals and the communities, towns and cities in which they are located.

    In July 2009 Michele was awarded the OBE for services to further education and community relations and received the CBE in the 2015 New Year's Honours.

  • Maggie Galliers, Principal, Leicester College

    AoC President (2012/13)

    Maggie Galliers CBE

    Principal, Leicester College

    Maggie Galliers was Principal of Leicester College between July 2002 and 2012. Before that, she was Principal of Henley College Coventry for five years, having previously held a wide variety of management positions in FE and taught in all sectors of education: primary, secondary, further and higher.

    Maggie also has over 15 years of experience at board level nationally and is currently a member of the Ofqual Board, Chair of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) Company Board and Chair of City College Coventry Corporation. Maggie was appointed CBE for services to local and national further education in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2009. In 2013 she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Education by the University of Bedfordshire for her outstanding contribution to further education and support for access and progression to higher education. Maggie’s time as AoC President coincided with considerable pace and scale of reform in post-16 education and training policy led by John Hayes MP and his successor as Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP. Throughout this period, Maggie argued strongly for the interests of students to remain paramount, using her experience of running a large successful college to explain how policies would affect young people and adults from a variety of different backgrounds. She reinvigorated direct links with the Treasury during her time in office as well as representing the sector with civil servants and Parliamentarians. Maggie’s lobbying and influence reached as far as the Deputy Prime Minister when invited to a private seminar to discuss the future of colleges.

  • Fiona McMillian, Principal, Bridgwater College

    AoC President (2011/12)

    Fiona McMillan

    Principal, Bridgwater College

    Fiona was Principal of Bridgwater College between 1994 and 2011 and under her leadership the college was designated as 'outstanding' by Ofsted in 2004. 

    Despite the challenges posed by national funding cuts and new curriculum initiatives, she remained focused on the sector's ability to change students' lives and make a difference to their local communities. Fiona's career in education began in secondary schools in London and Dorset, progressing after three years into further education. During her 25 years in FE she taught in, and later managed, a variety of general FE and tertiary colleges in England and Wales. She also represented the interests of colleges in the South West on the AoC Board, chaired the Tertiary College Group and was actively involved in engaging with politicians and civil servants on behalf of the further education sector.

  • Chris Morecroft, Principal, Worcester College of Technology

    AoC President (2010/11)

    Chris Morecroft

    Principal, Worcester College of Technology

    Chris Morecroft was Principal of Worcester College of Technology from 2002 until 2010, having been Principal at Dearne Valley College in South Yorkshire for four years. 

    His teaching career started in 1974 at Eccles Sixth Form College and then onto the Abraham Moss Centre in Manchester. During the 1980s, Chris was an Education Officer in Rotherham and the City of Sheffield Local Education Authorities and prior to his appointment as a Vice Principal at Broxtowe College in Nottingham in 1991, was an Education Adviser for further & continuing education in Rotherham. Chris’ term as President, the first full year of the Coalition Government, involved him developing new vision for higher education in FE Colleges, in advance of a landmark Higher Education White Paper. Chris was also part of a small delegation of business and education leaders who accompanied the Prime Minister on a visit to China. He returned to China with the FE Minister, John Hayes MP, in July 2011. As well as giving evidence to Select Committees, Chris also spoke at various events alongside Ministers and Opposition spokespeople. Chris is also a secondary school governor and on the board of four educational trusts.

  • Dame Pat Bacon, Chief Executive/Principal, St Helens College

    AoC President (2009/10)

    Dame Pat Bacon

    Chief Executive/Principal, St Helens College

    Pat was President of AoC through a time of significant political and economic change with both the recession and the 2010 General Election dominating her period in office.

    Early in her presidency she led the sector through a difficult spending environment with adult training budgets receiving a further major reduction. The political party conferences offered an opportunity for Pat to debate those decisions and others with politicians from all three major parties. In the run up to the General Election, Pat regularly briefed all parties about the policies needed to ensure colleges could continue to deliver for their students and for the economy. This work paid off as the new Coalition Government’s first major spending decisions ensured that the only sector which was permitted to re-invest savings was FE, with additional investment for apprenticeships and college buildings. In addition, throughout her year in office and beyond, Pat was the AoC representative on the Review of Higher Education Finance, led by Lord Browne of Madingley, and twice gave evidence to the panel as well as regularly attending meetings of the Advisory Forum. The FE Minister, John Hayes MP, paid tribute to Pat’s work as President at an AoC Parliamentary event in summer 2010. Pat continues as Principal of St Helens College, and in recognition of her contribution to FE, was awarded the DBE in the 2011 New Year’s Honours list.

  • David Collins CBE, Chief Executive/Principal, South Cheshire College

    AoC President (2008/09)

    Sir David Collins CBE

    Chief Executive/Principal, South Cheshire College

    Sir David Collins CBE was AoC’s first President during his final year as Principal of South Cheshire College, which was awarded an ‘outstanding’ grade by Ofsted.

    As a long standing Board member and regular contributor to AoC’s national activities David took to the new role very quickly regularly lobbying Ministers, opposition politicians and appearing in the media. He, alongside the Chief Executive Martin Doel, led the college sector through the difficulties following the collapse of the Learning and Skills Council’s capital funding scheme and the serious delays to payments of the Education Maintenance Allowance.