There is little over a week before Shelagh Legrave CBE leaves her office at Chichester College Group for the last time, but she has been sharing what the staff and student mean to her.
She steps down from the role as chief executive at the end of September to take up her new role, working for the Government as FE Commissioner.
It will bring to an end an 18-year careers at the college, which started when Shelagh was appointed chief financial officer in 2003 before she took up the role as chief executive in 2010.
She says: “I have very mixed emotions. I’m sad, because I am going to miss working here.
“I love the people here and I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to my colleagues throughout the group. Every day they are changing lives through learning.
“Clearly two of the highlights of my time have been achieving our Outstanding Ofsted reports in 2014 and in 2020 – but so many of my highlights have been around staff and student success.
“I’ve seen staff grow and develop, people who started as students or apprentices are now managers at our colleges and I’ve seen managers develop as they become more senior. I’ve heard student success story after student success story, I’ve seen students overcome obstacles to achieve some fantastic accomplishments and seen staff go above and beyond to help them.
“It’s those special things that we do for student that makes such a difference and what I am most proud of.”
As Shelagh gets ready to take up her new post, she has been considering what her role as FE Commissioner means to her.
The FE Commissioner is a key advisor to the Department for Education, and intervenes to support struggling colleges.
There’s no doubt Shelagh will be able to draw on her own experience of the sector and the lessons she has learned.
Under her leadership, Chichester College has become the Chichester College Group and grown from a two-campus college to one of the largest college groups in the country.
She has overseen two mergers (with Crawley College in 2017 and Worthing College in 2019) and the opening of the new Haywards Heath College last year.
Throughout this growth, the focus has been set on delivering inclusive, high quality learning opportunities for everyone – one of her driving goals which will continue when Shelagh starts her new role as FE Commissioner in October.
She adds: “I think the thing I love most about Further Education is that it provides opportunities for everyone.
“You can come to us if you’ve got nine grade 9s at GCSE or if you’ve got no GCSES. We will find a programme of study, at the right level for you, that will help you towards your dream job.
“It’s that inclusivity that is so important to me. I want to see more social mobility, we still don’t have enough of that in this country and FE colleges can make a difference. There are a lot of students without that aspiration, and we can give it to them.
“I want to champion Further Education within the Department for Education. It’s my job to tell the Secretary of State for Education and the Government how important we are for the economy; about the difference we make to our communities and to local businesses. We’re a vital part in the infrastructure of rebuilding the UK economy.
“I want to go into colleges who need support as a positive champion. I want everyone to believe that they can deliver in their communities, as so many of them are doing.
“Everybody can do that with the right leadership in place and the right finances in place. I think the biggest challenges for us all in further education is that we’ve only had one rate rise in 11 years and we just can’t carry on with that level of funding.”
She pauses and reflects on recent talks she has given to the new intake of students across the Chichester College Group.
“I’ve been talking a lot about something Gareth Southgate wrote in his book,” she says. “He talks about being kind to people, but also following your dream and believing in yourself.
“And I think all of us have got so much to give to our community and to each other. That kindness and respect is important, and I think that’s the legacy we should all want to leave behind.”