Our Leadership Team

These are the people responsible for the day to day running of Activate Learning.

A warm welcome from our leadership team

Activate Learning is led by a well-established Group Executive Team, which enjoys both breadth and depth in professional and management experience. This team are responsible for the strategic management of the Activate Learning group, and are supported by a strong Group Leadership Team, comprising Directors from across the business.

At Activate Learning we are well known for developing talented people who are sought after by businesses around the world. This is because we go beyond giving you great qualifications. Our focus is on building the mindset, attributes and skills that are most relevant for the ever-changing workplace, and developing you personally so you open up future career and life possibilities you cannot yet imagine.

Sally Dicketts CBE

Group Chief Executive, Activate Learning

Our Leadership Team

Sally Dicketts Group Chief Executive

Sally has held senior posts in both secondary schools and further education for many years and is a tireless campaigner and advocate for the learning and skills sector. She is a board member of the Education and Training Foundation, Pearson’s board and deputy chair of the LEP skills board. She use to chair the Women’s Leadership Network and was the chair of the Employment Committee of the Association of Colleges. She is a member of the Oxfordshire Management Club, All Souls Group and is a leading thinker for the National Education Trust. 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 became Principal at Milton Keynes College in 1996, and in 2003 became the first Principal of Oxford & Cherwell Valley College. In 2013 she became the first Chief Executive of Activate Learning, bringing together in one group, three FE Colleges, three UTCs, two 11-18 secondary schools, a studio school, a training provider delivering apprentices, training and consulting in the workplace, and a specialist engineering training provider.

In her free time, Sally enjoys travel, cycling, Zumba and spending time with her partner and daughter.

Lee Nicholls Deputy CEO Activate Learning

Lee Nicholls is Deputy CEO of Activate Learning and is responsible for strategic planning; curriculum & curriculum planning; marketing; quality improvement & standards across several Further Education colleges. He has significant experience of education mergers, acquisitions, and divestment across further, higher and secondary education.

He is the founding CEO of the Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) of 7 schools, and now co-chair of the ALET Trust Board. Most notably in this role, Lee has established 2 successful University Technical Colleges (UTCs) in Reading and South Oxfordshire and a Studio School in Bicester, as a means of raising the profile of technical secondary education linked to local business needs and employment opportunities.

Over a career spanning more than 30 years, and starting as a teacher of science, Lee has held a number of senior posts in further and higher education. He has previously held the positions of Head of Faculty, Deputy Principal, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Further Education at Thames Valley University and, as Executive Director of Further Education, held responsibility for the Reading College Campuses when part of the University from 2004 up until 2010.

Lee has held a number of voluntary positions. He has been Chair of the UTC Reading Board of Governors, Chair of UTC Oxfordshire, Chair of an Open College Network accreditation body, Chair of the Economic Development committee for Reading and Governor of Oxford Spires Academy secondary school in Oxford as it transitioned to become an academy.

Lee is a science graduate and MBA alumnus of Henley Business School. Throughout his career he 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. In his spare time, Lee enjoys travel and road cycling.

Bernard Grenville-Jones Group Executive Director

Bernard joined Activate Learning as a Group Executive Director in 2015. Prior to this he performed non-executive roles for Activate Learning as Governor; Chair of Group Audit and Risk Assurance; Chair of City of Oxford College Advisory Board; and inaugural Chair of Activate Enterprise Limited. Before working full-time in education, Bernard spent over 25 years building businesses in financial services consulting and software. He is a Chartered Director and has an honours degree in Business and Management in addition to spending an additional undergraduate year at Warwick University studying Computer Systems Engineering.

Bernard’s executive portfolio has spanned many areas of the business, and leading our merger bids, since 2015 and currently includes leading three of our six faculties; Technology, Lifestyles and Creative Industries. He is the strategic lead for Systems and Processes across all our faculties, working with a network of middle managers driving transformation. Across Oxfordshire Bernard holds a number of key stakeholder relationships, and has recently joined the Steering Group of the Oxfordshire Inclusive Economy Partnership, where he also Chairs the Education and Skills Working Group alongside the Chairman of OxLEP.

Bernard most enjoys helping people to develop and succeed, with a keenness to work alongside a team of brilliant students, staff and partners at Activate Learning. Outside of work, Bernard enjoys family, food and the great outdoors.

Cheri Ashby Group Executive Director

Cheri’s role as an Executive Director includes responsibility for faculty leadership of Academic and Professional Studies, Farnham College, Landbased and Lifeskills faculties; strategic lead for teaching, learning and assessment and Safeguarding. With over 25 years’ experience in the Further Education sector, Cheri has undertaken several different roles, including teacher, course leader, and curriculum manager, Assistant Principal teaching, learning and quality, Head of Campus and most recently as Group Executive Director. During 2019-20, Cheri led on the merger of the Surrey Colleges (Guildford College, Merrist Wood College and Farnham College) into Activate Learning.

Cheri enjoys being part of a large group committed to transforming lives through education. During her employment at Activate Learning, Cheri has had ongoing opportunities to ‘learn on the job’; she is a champion of Activate Learning’s Philosophy and is delighted that the organisation continues to retain a strong focus on learners, learning, curriculum design and delivery.

In her spare time, Cheri enjoys several activities, including travelling (Asia being a particular area of interest), sailing, gardening, walking and reading.

Fiona Stilwell Managing Director of Activate Apprenticeships

As Managing Director of Activate Apprenticeships, Fiona is responsible for the overall strategic direction and performance of the Apprenticeship division. Having worked within the Apprenticeship sector for over twenty years, Fiona joined Activate Learning seven years ago. Before this, Fiona took charge of her own development plan and achieved her MBA through Babcock International. Fiona enjoys working with Activate Learning, which she describes as an organisation truly focused on ‘doing the right thing by each learner’.

Outside of her role with Activate Learning, Fiona enjoys supporting a micro London based Training Provider, DiVA Apprenticeships, as a non-executive director. She is also actively involved in supporting the reforms in the wider sector as an active member of the Association of Colleges Apprenticeship Policy network.

Personally, Fiona is passionate about supporting the local hockey club junior committee, acting as their secretary.

Jon Adams Group Executive Director

Jon is one of Activate Learning’s Executive Directors, with responsibility for Business development. He is responsible for the growth of our organisation, especially commercial income, international work, Higher Education, and our stakeholder engagement strategy.

Spending the first twelve years of his career in the welfare to work sector, Jon worked to help long-term unemployed people back into work. Starting out as an Employment Advisor, Jon progressed through various management roles with Ingeus UK (a private provider of employment support services), to become Director of Operations and subsequently Director of Business Development. In 2015 Jon was appointed as CEO of ATG Training, which became part of Activate Learning in 2017 and has since been fully integrated into the organisation.

Jon enjoys working for an organisation that aspires to provide more than just technical training and education, but instead seeks to prepare people for successful careers. He is especially proud of Activate Learning’s work with many young people who have not previously had a positive experience of education. Jon has always been passionate about providing services that make a positive difference to people’s lives, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Paul Newman Group Executive Director

As Executive Director Paul Newman has strategic oversight for our student services, the student experience, student voice, student satisfaction on our campuses and online and the physical environment for our students. Paul is responsible for contributing to Activate Learning’s strategic plan, as well as overseeing regional key stakeholder relationships including membership of the Thames Valley Berkshire LEP, Reading UK and Chair of UTC Reading Local Governance Committee. Having worked with Activate Learning for twenty-four years, Paul has progressed through a number of different roles, including technician support, teacher, manager, senior manager, director, assistant principal and principal (interim).

During his time working with Activate Learning, Paul has enjoyed the support and development opportunities available, as well as the chance to be challenged, particularly when overseeing the Bracknell merger. The variety of work, the people (both colleagues and students), the direction of the organisation and having a manager who invests time into his development are also important elements of Paul’s role at Activate Learning. A significant part of Paul’s interest in his work is also the aspect of understanding people, relationships and behaviours.

Outside of work, Paul’s pastimes include home improvement, motorcycling, walking, cycling and spending time with family.

Perry Perrott Director of Governance and Clerk to the Corporation

Perry has recently joined the Activate Group and comes from a strong background in Further Education and Commercial Education alike, having worked in senior roles for several colleges in the UK, as external consultant for Education Ministries in Singapore and Vietnam, working with the Trailblazers group for new apprentices standards and most recently as the Global Head of Commercial, Compliance and Regulatory for an International Online Education provider, providing business support and structure in the EdTech world.

Perry’s specialism is in the support of compliance practices, including Data Protection, Safeguarding, Regulatory and Commercial auditing/support. From this Perry is looking to use all these skills for the benefit of Activate, building upon the excellent work already done, meeting all the teams around the various campuses, and taking the team to the next exciting phase of development.

Aside from the day job, Perry is a keen archer and member of the National Trust where he enjoys spending time looking around and visiting sites all over the country.

Steve Ball Chief Financial Officer

As Chief Financial Officer, Steve’s main responsibilities include establishing and delivering a group financial strategy, as well as line managing all financial processes within the Group. Steve is also responsible for the line management of IT and Property & Estates and leading on the merger processes (legal and financial structuring) for Bracknell & Wokingham and Guildford.

Steve has significant experience in leadership roles in Retail (Marks & Spencer), Supply Chain (DHL) and Education (SEMTA), and is also a qualified accountant.

In terms of his role with Activate Learning, Steve takes a keen interest in driving change and making a difference. He believes that he is able to use his financial experience and expertise to generate value, knowing that the organisation is helping people to become employable. Steve also takes pride in leading and developing teams, and ensuring that finance (and similar functions) are ‘partners’ to the organisation and supporting and improving decision making – rather than operating as remote disengaged ‘experts’.

In his free time, Steve enjoys good food and wine, spending time with family and friends, travelling, sport (with a particular interest in football) and theatre.