Professor Ken Thomson to retire after decade as Principal

Professor Ken Thomson to retire after decade as Principal
Professor Ken Thomson OBE

Forth Valley College Principal and Chief Executive Professor Ken Thomson OBE plans to retire after a decade of Making Learning Work!

Ken took over from Linda McKay as Principal of Forth Valley College in 2013 and under his leadership he has helped the organisation to become sector leading and one of Scotland’s most influential further educational establishments.

With his inspirational, progressive and critically acclaimed ‘whole college approach to learning’ and his innovative Making Learning Work mission statement and ethos, the College won the prestigious Association of College’s (AOC) Beacon Award for Innovation in UK Further Education for 2014.

Under his leadership FVC’s drive and initiative achieved several more national awards and initiatives including the influential School College Opportunities to Succeed (SCOTS) programme, which was a ground-breaking partnership between the College and Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Councils. Ken also oversaw , the completion of the College’s ambitious estates programme with the opening in 2020 of the state-of-the-art £78 million Falkirk Campus – which was one of six finalists recently in the highly acclaimed UK wide Stirling Prize for the best building in the UK 2022, and has also been shortlisted for this year’s Andrew Doolan Prize for the best building in Scotland.

Arguably one of his biggest challenges was steering FVC through the unprecedented Covid pandemic lockdown and overseeing the transformation from face-to-face teaching to remote learning for students, leading the regional economic revival and offering NHS Forth Valley use of FVC’s three Campuses in Alloa, Stirling and Falkirk for use as Covid vaccination centres, where more than 300,000 people from the Forth Valley area received vaccinations.

Professor Thomson, said: “The time has come for me to announce my retirement as Principal and Chief Executive of Forth Valley College and I will leave my role at the end of the current 2022/23 academic year.

“A decision like this is never an easy one to make, and while I will be sad to go, I do feel I am leaving with the College in a good place for a bright and exciting future.

“I had originally intended to retire at the age of 60 in 2020, but then came Covid-19 and the time was not right. I am so very proud of the tremendous resilience Forth Valley College staff and students have shown during this period and this, coupled with a strong governance from the Board of Management, saw us through two years of the pandemic, lockdown challenges and restrictions, while still producing consistently high results for our students in very demanding and difficult circumstances.

“We also threw open our doors to the communities of Alloa, Falkirk and Stirling as vaccination centres and moved to an online delivery for all our learning – both of which also fills me with immense pride.

“But, after ten years at the helm, I have decided to retire next summer and have provided a formal note to both our current Chair of the Board of Management and our interim Chair, that I will be standing down as Principal of Forth Valley College at the end of July 2023 giving the College an appropriate time for the recruitment of my successor.

“With the completion of our ambitious ‘three new campus’ estates plan equipping us with arguably the best further education facilities in Scotland, we have developed a great foundation for the future.

“With that strong foundation and a national, and a developing international, reputation in place it’s now time to hand over the reins to a new leader, to take the College to the next level.

“Finally I want to pay tribute to my Board and Senior Management Team, my Leadership Management Team and the great staff and students at Forth Valley College, without whom, all of this would not have been possible.

“I wish you all the very best for the future and I thank you all for your incredible support over the years and contributing to Making Learning Work for the people of Forth Valley and beyond.”

Ross Martin outgoing Chair of the Forth Valley College Board of Management, said: “Ken is an outstanding leader of people and a brilliant creator of place - his legacy is anchored at the heart of the Forth Valley economy, and the communities it serves.

“The great admiration in which FVC is held is a reflection of the respect which Ken has gained throughout his decade as Principal, and far back into his many years’ service beforehand.

“The collaborative characteristic of the College, with its deep rooted industrial partnerships and community engagement, is part of Ken’s own professional DNA, and what has enabled FVC to continue Making Learning Work. 

“It’s been an absolute pleasure serving alongside Ken and I know that he will continue to use his invaluable experience to the benefit of whoever is lucky enough to come into contact with him over the years ahead.”

Trudi Craggs, Interim Chair of the Forth Valley College Board of Management, said: “It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Ken since I joined the Board six years ago. He has been an outstanding leader and ambassador for the college and will be hugely missed.  I’m sad that Ken is retiring as Principal of the College. He’s been here for 10 years as Principal, before that he was part of the staff and Senior Management Team and he has done an outstanding job for the College.

“He has brought forward thinking and innovation to his role and taken the College to a place we never thought it would be, five or ten years ago. He got us through the Covid pandemic, has changed the way students learn and that is, I feel, his legacy. His will be big shoes to fill going forward, but I wish him all the best for the future and I hope our paths will cross again at some point.”

Ken joined Falkirk College of Further and Higher Education in 1994 following eight years in environmental education.  He became Principal and Chief Executive of Forth Valley College in 2013 having previously held posts of Depute Principal, Director of Learning and prior to that, Head of Science.

Graduating from the University of Nottingham with a BSc (Hons) in Zoology 1982, he followed that by completing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 1986. He completed his Teacher Qualification FE from Strathclyde University in 1997 and from 1999-2006 was an HMI Associate Assessor for Science.

Ken was also a member of the Colleges Scotland Principals Group (CPG) and had lead responsibility for the sector’s Digital Ambition and School College Partnerships. He is a member of the Scottish Government’s Curriculum and Assessment Board as the Scottish Colleges representative. His other roles include: Board member of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Chair of the SQA Qualifications Committee and is a member of the Audit Committee and Board member of CDN.

He has also been a Board member of HES and on the Board of Trustees for Jisc, both roles held from 2014 to January 2021. Ken is a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and was awarded Regional IoD Director of the Year in 2020 and in 2021 was delighted to receive a special IoD honorary award for Leadership in Learning in recognition of his work in the education, learning and skills sectors. He is currently a member of the Howard Independent Review Group on Assessment and Qualification in Scotland. He is also a Deputy Lieutenant (DL) for Falkirk and Stirling.

In November 2019 Ken was awarded the OBE for services to education, economic development and the communities of the Forth Valley area, and in March 2022, he was awarded with a Honorary Professorship from the University of Stirling in recognition of his contribution to the academic work of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The Professorship was awarded in recognition of Ken’s contribution to the sector leading partnership building and best practice, that both the University of Stirling and Forth Valley College have developed together over the last 15 years.