Meet our Trustees

Sally Dicketts CBE

Chair of Activate Learning Education Trust

SallySally Dicketts chairs the Activate Learning Educational Board and has held senior posts in both secondary schools and further education.

She became Principal at Milton Keynes College in 1996, and in 2003 became the first Principal of Oxford & Cherwell Valley College. In 2010, Oxford and Cherwell Valley College took over the responsibility for running Reading College and in 2013 set up UTC Reading.

In 2013, Sally became the first Chief Executive of Activate Learning, bringing together in one group, three FE Colleges (Banbury and Bicester College, City of Oxford College and Reading College), three UTCs (UTC Reading, UTC Oxfordshire and UTC Swindon), an 11-18 secondary school, a studio school, and a training provider delivering apprenticeships, training and consultancy in the workplace.

Sally is a tireless campaigner and advocate for the learning and skills sector. She is a member of City & Guilds Learning and Assessment Policy Committee. She is a board member of AMiE, and was the chair of the Employment committee of the AoC. She is a member of the Oxfordshire Management Club, All Souls Group and is a leading thinker for the National Education Trust. She sits on the Oxfordshire LEP. Sally was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Honours list in July 2013.

Her main area of interest is in how people learn, mindfulness and how to develop more entrepreneurial innovative individuals. She enjoys travel, cycling, Zumba and spending time with her partner and daughter.

Lee Nicholls

LeeLee Nicholls is the Activate Learning Group Executive Director – Curriculum, Standards and Academies. Lee has held a number of senior posts in further education and higher education after starting out in education as a teacher of science. He has previously held the position of Pro Vice-Chancellor of Further Education at Thames Valley University and, as Executive Director of Further Education, was responsible for the Reading Campuses when part of the university, up until 2010.

In 2010, Lee joined Activate Learning (formerly Oxford and Cherwell Valley College) as an Executive Director. He has been responsible for the development of strategic projects and partnerships, curriculum design and raising standards. Most notably, over the past three years, Lee has conceived and implemented two University Technical Colleges (UTCs) in Reading and South Oxfordshire and a Studio School in Bicester, as a means of raising the profile of high achieving technical education, linked to local economies and employment opportunities.

Lee is Chair of the UTC Reading Board of Governors, Chair of UTC Oxfordshire and Chair of an Open College Network accreditation body. Previously, Lee has chaired the Economic Development committee for Reading and was a Governor of the Oxford Spires Academy secondary school in Oxford as it became an academy.

Lee is an alumnus of Henley Business School and throughout his career has gained considerable experience of change in complex multi-sector organisations, and in the delivery of ‘more than the sum of the parts’ through the power of partnership.


Placi Espejo

PlaciHeyford Park Management, Head of Commercial Sales and Marketing

Placi was involved in the running of the family business in Spain from a very early age. Always eager to learn, she came to Oxford where she studied Languages for Business Degree at Oxford Brookes University. After her degree, she set up and run a number of business incubators in Oxfordshire, nurturing these early stage technology businesses. Her strengths lay in assisting businesses get ready for investment, assisting companies in the life sciences, media and green tech sectors.

Placi has played a key role in a number of European Funded projects, always aiming to help high growth technology businesses realise their potential. She has developed a strong network of peers and business mentors, working with top level executive on leadership, strategy, planning and open innovation.

She is an experienced mentor and has been involved in preparing Oxford entrepreneurs finalists for the IDEA IDOL competition, as well as the finalists to the Venture Fund and other businesses that need to improve their pitching techniques.

Placi is also Deputy Chairman of Oxfordshire Business First, a not-for-profit organisation set up to address the need of enabling business people to learn from other business people. The organisation promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in Oxfordshire, by helping individual businesses to overcome obstacles to growth.

Beverley Ford

Beverley Ford picBeverley is Chair of the Board of Governors at UTC Swindon. She is a self-taught Chartered Accountant who has been working for Gericke Rotaval, an engineering company producing industrial valves, since 2001. Originally an Accounting Technician, Beverley became Finance Director in 2007 and Managing Director in 2013.

Beverley sees the lack of skills in engineering on a daily basis. She strongly believes that industry has a key role to play in helping schools and colleges to fill this gap.

Joanne Harper

Joanne is Executive Principal for UTC Reading, UTC Swindon and Heathrow Aviation Engineering UTC. In May 2016, the Department for Education designated Joanne as a National Leader in Education.

Prior to joining UTC Reading, Joanne was Principal of a school in West London, where under her guidance the comprehensive school for 11-19 year olds was graded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Joanne has been teaching for over twenty years and has a particular interest in education for 14-19 year olds and working closely with industry to ensure students have the skills needed for the workplace.

Joanne qualified from Loughborough University with an Honours degree in Mathematics and Education, specialising in mechanics and decision mathematics, and began her professional life as a Mathematics teacher in London.

She has also taken the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers. More recently, she completed a Master’s Degree in Education, Leadership and Management at Roehampton University.


Owain Johns

Owain has extensive experience in education. Having graduated from the University of West England, he went on to teach design and technology in Oxfordshire before moving into school leadership roles in Buckinghamshire.

He played a key role in a girls’ grammar school achieving an ‘outstanding’ rating by Ofsted and has led two successful school building projects.

Owain said: “I am excited about leading what will become a world class educational experience. It is a first for Oxfordshire and the challenge will be to ensure that young people are equipped with the key life skills for success in the world of work, in particular science and engineering.”


David Kilshaw

Dave is an Electronics Engineer by profession. He has been running an electronics company, On Systems Ltd, in Berkshire for the past 15 years.

He started his career working for the BBC Television News and trained as an Electronics Engineer. He moved onto the recording industry where he built some of the top four recording studios.

After having a family, he started his first electronics company, On Systems, designing and manufacturing power supplies for the defence industry.

Dave teamed up with UTC Reading as a business partner when the UTC first opened. He helps provide tailored courses to fully immerse students in electronics principles and concepts.

He has been a governor at UTC Reading since 2014 and took on the role as Chair in July 2017.

Phil Shadbolt OBE

PhilPhil is co-founder and CEO of Zeta, has managed the company since its inception in January 1989. He is a highly competent entrepreneur and innovator, with the ability to identify customer requirements and match this to a commercially viable solution. Phil has grown the team to enable Zeta’s planned growth and is determined to drive the business to meet the high development aspirations.

Phil is committed to pushing the boundaries of R&D by continually developing new innovative solutions within the lighting industry. He is part of several local enterprises including Bicester Vision and the LEP, and is also a Governor at Oxford Brookes University.


Contacting the Board of Trustees

Please contact or telephone on: 01865 551 025.

The Chairman of the Trustees is Sally Dicketts, Group Chief Executive for Activate Learning. She can be contacted via the Clerk to the Corporation, City of Oxford College, Oxpens Road, Oxford OX1 1SA.