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Zoe Lewis

March 5, 2020
Zoe Lewis

Principal and Chief Executive of Middlesbrough College

Tell us a bit about your background?

I have 3 older brothers and was brought up on a farm on Huntcliffe Saltburn – which was the best playground ever! When I started my A Levels my eldest brother had just completed his degree in micro-biology and decided to do something completely different afterwards – which caused me to pause and think about my own education pathway. As a result, I dropped out of my A Levels and started working, attending Middlesbrough College on an evening and continued studying part time for the next 6 years, until I became a CIMA qualified accountant. I later went back to achieve my master’s degree part time too with my dissertation focussing on ‘the education options young people take at age 16’. This working and studying experience has really shaped my views – not only in ensuring that everyone has a wide range of further education options, but also on the real power of learning in the classroom, applying it in the workplace and earning at the same time. It is now actively shaping Middlesbrough College’s strategy, developing new apprenticeships, T Levels and part time degree options for people of all ages.

What were your career ambitions growing up? Were there any influences into your career today?

Many of my mum’s family worked in education, in fact my Grandfather was the Head teacher at Brackenhoe school on our old college campus. My passion growing up was sport and music – I played netball, hockey and the piano to grade 8 as a teenager – and so most of my childhood I assumed I would become a secondary school PE and music teacher and never really questioned this until I was in sixth form.

How and when did you get in to your role at Middlesbrough College?

As my accountancy career developed, I gained experience of capital development projects such as managing a project to build 5 police stations across the Tees Valley. When I saw the job for Vice Principal – Corporate Services at the College in 2005, which would also lead on the relocation of the college to Middlehaven and selling the 4 former sites across the town – it immediately attracted me. Not only did it fit my experience perfectly, it also had a link back to my grandfather, to my own education at Middlesbrough College and it allowed me to use my experience to benefit the people across the Tees Valley – a place I remain passionately committed to.

What does your role consist of on a day-to-day basis?

There are never two days the same! Yes, there are standard college management team meetings which are key to ensuring we remain financially strong, have a course offer which meets local employment needs, achieve great results for our students, maintain and expand our campus and keep everyone safe. But there are also lots of other activities such as attending our student councils and awards celebrations, hosting parent information sessions, attending sector based employer liaison events, student awards, staff councils and celebrations. I also spend an increasing amount of time liaising with external bodies; for example I am an elected member of the North East CBI committee, a member of the Tees Valley Combined Authority cabinet, I chair a collaboration between the 5 local FE colleges called FE+ and also Chair a national college quality forum – where we also use the opportunity to lobby senior civil servants on matters relating to education policy. If you add to that the range of amazing things that the college regularly does such as our remembrance ceremony, Pride march, charity events, ESOL choir, community work to name but a few – I am certainly kept busy!

What are your favourite elements of your job?

Working with staff and students in college. We have the most amazing team of staff here – who are so passionate, dedicated and committed to our students. To see them at work every day fills me with immense awe and pride and likewise, when I hear how grateful our students are and how articulate, ambitious and respectful they are towards one another – I know we are doing something right!

What would you say to someone considering applying to a position at Middlesbrough College?

Come and have a look around, talk to staff and our careers team, view the facilities and make your own decision.

What advice would you give to a young professional?

Always go above and beyond on all that you do. Write a list each year of the areas that you would like to develop in yourself and of the things you need to do within your job which you are least comfortable with. Actively work on these things – and regularly assess how you are doing. Keep on learning and developing and never stand still. I call it ‘stretching your spring’ – the more you stretch yourself, the broader your ‘spring’ becomes.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I used to be very active with hockey, cycling, badminton and friends, but this has diminished a lot since having my own children. I now spend most of my time outside of work with my family, developing my children’s interests and friendships and whenever possible getting time outdoors in the beautiful countryside of the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire.