2023 highlights - MK College

An eventful first year as CEO – 2023 highlights

By Sally Alexander, CEO and Group Principal at Milton Keynes College Group

I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly, but I’ve just passed the first anniversary of my appointment as CEO and Group Principal of Milton Keynes College Group, and what a busy year it’s been. 

People always ask about your highlights, but it’s impossible to list them all properly.  Every time you think, “Oh, I mustn’t leave that out,” something else pops into your head vying for space.  So, while I’m going to include a select few things of which I’m most proud, it is by no means exhaustive. 

When I was interviewed by the Board for this job, I said that Growth would be a really important priority for my tenure.  And I’m really pleased to say that in this first year, student numbers are up 17%.  We’ve expanded our T Level provision and are preparing to launch A Levels in September 2024.  We’ve taken on more prison education, having been awarded the contract for ten more institutions in Kent, Surrey and Sussex and supported the opening of the brand new HMP Fosse Way.  This means we now provide education for thirty prisons across England, and have been pleased to welcome many new colleagues as a result. We’ve had the official opening of the South Central Institute of Technology, and what a fabulous event that was.   

Our College can’t possibly grow in isolation, and I’m really pleased to say that our connections to industry and business have expanded a great deal too.  Our relationships with some of the city’s biggest employers like Red Bull, Santander and Network Rail are central to that collaboration, as are myriad smaller, less well-known businesses that also enter wholeheartedly into partnership with us. 

I wanted to cement our position in the local community.  We’re here to serve our local population, so it’s absolutely crucial that we are fully embedded in what’s going on around us.  College in the Community Day, the Community Iftar, the CEO Sleepout (which we hosted, as we did the Teen Tech Festival) and the City of Codes & Light Festival, were all occasions when the Group felt able to support our communities. 

A good year for awards 

Every year you hope to win the odd award (and hand them out as we did to mark the performance of some wonderful and inspirational individuals at the Students of the Year Awards) and notable successes include Jack Maude’s Excellent Educator award at the Lions Barber Collective’s Collective Pride Awards, the Milton Keynes Inspiration Award that our Performing Arts staff and students won for their “Broken” play that students devised, wrote and performed as part of a project with Thames Valley Police on the subject of knife crime.  Then we were named College of the Year by awarding body VTCT for the Hair, Beauty and Hospitality departments.  Staff and students even helped land a Guiness World Record in support of the MK Can event for Milton Keynes Food Bank with ten kilometres of tin cans running through Campbell Park. Our Public Services students were even recognised with an award for their hard work at the event from the Food Bank at its recent annual conference. 

This first year in my role has also seen us continue our work to support our diverse communities across the College Group. From receiving the Silver Award for the Armed Forces Covenant in recognition of our commitment to supporting colleagues from the armed forces community and their families, to sponsoring and attending Milton Keynes Pride Festival, to retaining our Leaders in Diversity accreditation and taking part in the Student Ambassadors for Racial Justice initiative.  I’m proud that we’ve taken such significant steps, demonstrating our commitment to an inclusive educational environment and workplace for all colleagues and students. 

Our staff are our treasure 

A College is nothing without its staff, who deserve so much praise for the lifechanging support they give our students. 

I’m very proud, but also very humbled.  In this job I’m constantly aware of the impact I’m able to have on people’s lives here in Milton Keynes and in our wider prison communities.  It’s only once you become CEO that you understand how much of an impact your decisions can have.  The team will always look to you for direction and leadership, and the weight of responsibility is always there.  You don’t realise (or at least I didn’t) the extent to which the buck really will stop with you, and I’m really grateful to the Board for the support and advice they give. 

We’ve worked really hard at further developing our positive relationships with key stakeholders such as the council, local universities and schools, as well as employers.  Neither they nor we operate untouched by the world outside, and trying to do the right thing in the global and national context is like being a small boat on a stormy sea sometimes.  Nobody would deny these are challenging times, from the cost-of-living crisis to the wars in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine.  Feelings run high and we have to work very hard to support our students as they also navigate those choppy waters, passionate as they are about their world.  Apart from helping them try to make sense of that wider context, we also need to keep them safe within it.  Safeguarding comes in many forms, in the real and virtual worlds.  Online bullying and knife crime exist all around us, and we cannot escape their impact.  All we can hope to do is to protect and mitigate for our young people as far as is humanly possible.  The introduction of checks using safety arches to detect and deter knives has been widely welcomed by students and staff who say it makes them feel safer.  Again, sitting in this seat that wider context is thrown into even greater relief, because it’s down to you to ensure the organisation reacts to it appropriately and in good time.  It is also hugely rewarding on those occasions when you can use your position to make decisions that have a demonstrably positive impact. 

As I start my second year in the job, I promise you that I will build upon the policies I’ve described, serving the people who rely upon us for Fairer Futures for all.