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The Chair of the region’s largest further education provider has stepped down after eight successful years at the helm.

Rob Lawson OBE, who has helped guide Sunderland College from a three-campus local college to a regional group – Education Partnership North East (EPNE) – operating in Sunderland, Hartlepool and Northumberland, has chaired his final board meeting after announcing his intention to step down from his position earlier this year.

The former newspaper editor, who is now a successful freelance PR consultant, has served two full terms as chair of governors for EPNE, which was formed under his stewardship after Sunderland College’s first merger with Hartlepool Sixth Form in 2017.

The college has since gone on to merge with Northumberland College and is undertaking a transformational programme – including significant capital investment – to improve student experiences and outcomes at the land-based and technical education provider. Both mergers were undertaken with Rob at the helm of the board of corporation, and his excellent governance led to him being appointed to a top team of national college leaders helping improve standards across the further education sector in 2019.

Rob said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my eight years with Sunderland College and EPNE and now is the right time for me to step down. I’ve been blessed to work with an impressive group of committed and talented governors and an inspirational senior team headed by Ellen, who’s charismatic leadership has propelled her to national prominence in the FE sector. I’ll watch with great interest to see how EPNE will develop and grow over the coming years.”

Rob was appointed chair in 2013. Working alongside Chief Executive, Ellen Thinnesen, who was named alongside Rob in the Queen’s New Year 2021 Honours List for her contribution to education, he has helped create a leading college group with 21,500 student enrolments, six college campuses, and several satellite delivery centres situated entirely within the North East region.

Ellen said: “Rob has been a magnificent chair, who has presided over a transforming organisation, that he leaves in a far stronger position thanks to his unwavering support and commitment.

“Further Education is a changing and often challenging landscape, but the exceptional governance we have as a group led by Rob, has ensured that EPNE is recognised as a robust, dynamic and future-focused organisation. I am enormously grateful to have had the chance to work alongside such a diligent and supportive chair, whose work has – no doubt – enhanced the lives of many thousands of young people.”

EPNE, which now serves a significant catchment area spanning from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Tees Valley, is expected to formally appoint its new chair this month, with an announcement set to be made in the New Year.

Rob added: “It is a pleasure to know that I am handing over the reins of a FE group that is in exceptional shape and absolutely alive to the needs of the area it serves.

“It’s been an honour to be part of such an inspiring organisation and I will continue to be a huge supporter of its work.”

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19