Royal honours for two former Etc. chiefs

Stepping down from the helm of a booming Teesside college group was always going to be a big move for education stalwarts Mark White and Phil Cook.

Mark White and Phil Cook

But their years of hard work and commitment to delivering skills and training for school leavers and adults of all ages in the Tees Valley, haven’t gone unnoticed.

The former leaders of the Education Training Collective (Etc.) have earned a spot on the King’s Birthday Honours list, both recognised for their services to further education.

Mark, who was chair of the group’s governing board, will be made a CBE, while former chief executive and group principal, Phil, is to become an OBE.

“I am thrilled and humbled by this award,” said Mark, who is a familiar face to many, having moved to the area as a student 47 years ago and making it his home ever since.

Phil, who in his nine years as Etc. chief executive led the transformation and growth of the college group, including mergers with NETA Training and Redcar and Cleveland College, said: “I feel very proud but also lucky.”

Phil has worked in the further education sector for more than 30 years. The former deputy principal of Barnsley College joined Stockton Riverside College and Bede Sixth Form College as chief executive in 2013 where he would go on to see the turnaround and growth of the Teesside-based college group.

Retiring from the Etc. last summer, Phil, who also served three years as one of the Secretary of State’s National Leaders of Further Education, said: “I have always believed that further education can truly change people’s lives and it’s been a privilege to work in the sector for so many years.”

Mark built a lifelong career at Teesside University, up until his retirement in 2016. Over the years he has dedicated countless hours to a host of organisations, including 27 years committed to the governing boards of the colleges that now make up the Etc.

Retiring from his role as chair of the Etc. last year and chair of AoC Sport (the membership body for college sport in England) earlier this year, Mark is a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham and chair of Thornaby-on-Tees Town Deal Board. He is also chair of Stockton-on-Tees Strategic Education Board, a member of the council of governors of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and chair of the Association of Colleges Charitable Trust. He was made an OBE in 2016 for services to education, particularly in Teesside.

Despite the royal acknowledgment, both Mark and Phil are quick to shine the spotlight on those around them.

Phil said: “My family have been incredibly supportive throughout my career, and I have been fortunate to have worked with many talented and kind colleagues over the years.”

While Mark added: “I have worked with wonderful, dedicated people and, to me, this award recognises and celebrates the value and importance of our essential further education sector.”

The Etc. incorporates Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and The Skills Academy (Billingham).

Stuart Blackett, chairman of the Etc. governing board, said: “We are incredibly proud of both Mark and Phil and the incredible legacy they have left behind for us to continue to build on here at the Etc., for our learners, colleagues and communities.”