ONE of the country’s most high-profile leaders and campaigners for inclusive education has been appointed as the next chair of governors at Kensington and Chelsea College.
Last month, Mary Curnock Cook OBE stepped down as chief executive of UCAS – the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
During her seven years at the helm of UCAS, the organisation underwent a major transformation which included an increased focus on promoting access to higher education by people from a wide range of backgrounds.
Outside of her UCAS role, she has been an active campaigner for inclusion in education and training, working to help people from more deprived backgrounds to progress to university.
Kensington and Chelsea College has a wide range of Access courses which prepare people for higher education – including University degrees – and this week described her appointment as “exactly what the college needs” as it looks forward to potential merger.
Michele Sutton CBE – Interim Principal of Kensington and Chelsea College – said: “We couldn’t be more delighted to have as our chair of governors such a high-profile figure and someone who is so passionate about the idea that education at all levels is something that should be available to everyone based on their potential and not their background.
“Despite being busy with her illustrious career in public service, Mary has been generous with her time in acting as an ambassador for education, tirelessly making the case for widening participation.
“This combination of talent and enthusiasm is exactly what the college needs at this time.”
Ms Curnock Cook was made an OBE for her services to training in hospitality and tourism and, like many of the college’s Access students preparing to enter higher education, she got the learning bug later in life. It was not until her 40s that she graduated with an MSc from the London Business School.
Before joining UCAS, she was a director of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Ms Curnock Cook’s appointment was given unanimous support from Kensington and Chelsea College’s governing body.
She said: “I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to support the college in this very important period as it moves towards merger.
“One of our priorities in the merger process is that we secure quality provision in the borough for both school-leavers and adults, but combined with the efficiencies which will come from being part of a larger organisation.
“I left school at 16 with a clutch of O-levels and one A-level. I know very well that people return to education and training at different stages in their lives. There is no single route to success.
“The magic of colleges is that they are the part of the education system that likes to say ‘yes’ to people’s aspirations regardless of where they need to start and which study route they need to take to fulfil their ambition.
“I have always been interested in the way colleges fit in to the wider eco-system of education.”
Early in her career, Ms Curnock Cook did secretarial work before joining the biochemical industry and then going on to food and hospitality, including the licensed retail sector. During this period she became increasingly involved in vocational training and aware of its impact on individuals.
In an interview for the BBC’s Woman’s Hour, she said: “When you hand out a certificate to a grown man and see them with tears in their eyes that’s a very very moving experience and it’s also a big eye-opener about how important it is to validate somebody’s self-worth.”
Kensington and Chelsea College has campuses near Kings Road in Chelsea and near Portobello Road in North Kensington and is best known for its creative courses.
The college is currently evaluating potential merger partners, planning the modernisation of its facilities in North Kensington and strengthening its links with the local community.
It offers full-time and part-time courses to all ages up to and including higher education level.