Spirit of collaboration to drive change

January 5, 2021

Businesswoman and the current High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear Sarah Stewart OBE DL has taken up the role as chair of Gateshead College. Here, she explains her plans to ensure the college continues to engage as a key partner with the wider business community.


Collaboration is the new watchword.

I have every intention of building on the superb links Gateshead College already has, while developing them to take them a stage further.

We are already well embedded within the regional infrastructure and I want to make those connections work harder, for our students, employers, and the partners we work with. Given the tough economic landscape we are going to be facing for the next year or two, we need to see our strong partnerships delivering real, tangible results and make sure that no-one in our communities gets left behind.

Based on everything I’ve seen to date, I have no doubt that colleagues across the college are as committed as me to playing a critical role in improving the skills base and opportunities for young people and businesses.

During my ten years as chief executive at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, I was always impressed by the enthusiasm shown by Gateshead College to play a broader role in supporting the regional economy. More recently, I have seen that commitment and enthusiasm first-hand, at both a personal and professional level.

A few years ago, my son was looking into his career options and started considering college as his route to develop his passion in film and television. There were a few options, but Gateshead College not only offered the perfect course, they took great time and trouble to talk to him and offer him valuable advice. Two years later, he successfully achieved a diploma with distinction that got him into university to continue his studies in film.

At a professional level and since joining the board of governors in 2018, I have seen the dedication within the staff and the pride that everyone has in the work the college is doing with its students and local employers.

The last year or so has been a challenging period at the college. The unexpected discovery of a financial deficit led to the departures of several senior personnel, a college restructure, and the intervention of Further Education Commissioners. Much of this is well documented. What hasn’t been so well reported is that during all the recent turbulence and the development of a recovery plan, the college and staff have never lost focus. Everyone has continued to put the needs of students and local employers first and foremost with exceptional results. When the college lost Ofsted’s coveted overall outstanding status, inspectors still commended the college for the high quality of its education and training provision, which it continued to rate as outstanding in key areas.

This all bodes well and is why I believe we’re at an exciting time in the development of Gateshead College. The recovery plan is well on track and we are confident we will deliver an operational surplus within the next two years, allowing us to continue to invest in education provision to the future benefit of students and employers.

Other priorities include helping build a new leadership team, specifically the recruitment of both a principal/ chief executive and finance director, along with refreshing the board membership.

During this year, we will focus our attention on developing a new three-to-five-year strategic plan that will further strengthen our relationships with regional stakeholders, with an even greater emphasis on collaboration.

All the while we will remember our focus – which is continuing to offer students the highest quality of education and training that gives them an edge in the jobs market and helps them move successfully into employment, higher education or further training.

Gateshead College
Sarah Stewart OBE DL, current High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear, has taken up the role as chair of Gateshead College.


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