Express & Star

Staffordshire colleges principal set for retirement after stellar career

The leader of a Staffordshire colleges group is looking to the future after announcing her retirement.

Karen Dobson is calling it a day after a 20-year career

Karen Dobson OBE, principal and chief executive of Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group (NSCG), announced her intention to retire at the end of the 2021/22 academic year.

Ms Dobson joined NSCG in 2002 and during her time in charge has transformed the college into a top performing and highly respected institution, with 18 of those year as principal.

The 63-year-old said there had been a host of highlights from her time, as well as challenges, and said it all seemed to have paid off.

She said: "The biggest highlight was the merger between Newcastle and Stafford colleges in 2016, which I think has been a great success, with a fantastic Ofsted outcome.

"The merger was a challenge as we had to do a lot of difficult work making changes, which were challenging for a lot of people, but which seems to have worked out.

"We have also had consistent year-on-year growth in learner numbers and fantastic achievement rates that place NSCG in the top 10 per cent of colleges in England for learners aged 16 to 18."

Potteries-born Karen began her career in the public sector with the NHS as a nurse, ward manager and health visitor before moving into further education as a lecturer in health and social care.

She joined Newcastle College in 2002 as director of curriculum and strategic planning and in July 2004 was promoted to the post of principal.

Speaking about her time at NSCG, she said: “It has been an absolute privilege and pleasure to be the principal and chief executive of NSCG, and to have worked with so many talented people who consistently put the students’ interests at the heart of everything they do.

"I am proud of the extraordinary things we’ve managed to achieve together over the last 20 years and I’ll definitely miss everything about the place.

"However, I know I’ll be leaving NSCG in a very strong position, with lots of exciting developments on the horizon, so now is the right time to hand over the baton to someone who will lead NSCG through its next chapter.”

“I will be supporting the corporation board in the search for my successor, and for the next few months my primary focus will be on finishing this academic year strongly, and leading this fantastic college and its amazing staff and students with continued passion and commitment.”

Karen said the plans for retirement started with booking a holiday in September, then catching up on all the jobs she hadn't had time for at home, such as gardening, as well as playing more tennis and spending time with her partner Mike Hannan and son Alex.

She also thanked everyone at the college for the wonderful send off that she received, as well as the presents of a new garden bench and a cartoon portrait created by Mike Kelly from the college.

Karen said she wanted her legacy to be about helping pupils to get their best results in a welcoming environment.

She said: "I also want the college to remain ambitious to improve and to help the students, as well as serve the community and position itself on a national stage, which I think it has done."

Simon Leech, chair of governors at NSCG, said: “We are really sorry to see Karen retire and are immensely proud of her many career achievements.

"I know I am joined by the corporation board, her colleagues from across the bollege, the FE sector and wider community when I say she will be greatly missed.

“Karen’s passion for FE is immediately obvious to everyone she meets.

"Having dedicated much of her career to improving the life prospects of the people of Staffordshire, her strength of leadership has had a huge impact on the cllege, her staff and colleagues and the thousands of students that have passed through the doors during her time here.

"Karen will leave behind a legacy to be immensely proud of, and a pretty large pair of shoes to fill.

"Everyone associated with NSCG wishes Karen a long and happy retirement.”