Construction Principal and CEO Retires After 37 Years in Education 

Derek Whitehead headshot

DEREK Whitehead, Principal and CEO of Leeds College of Building, is to retire this week after 37 years working in Further Education and vocational skills training.

From teenage Keighley carpentry and joinery apprentice, to leader of the UK’s only General Further Education College that specialises in construction, Derek has spent decades training and leading the next generation of builders, engineers, and construction-craft professionals.

On retiring from his position as Principal and CEO of Leeds College of Building, Derek comments: “I have fully enjoyed all 18 years that I have spent at Leeds College of Building. I’m delighted to be leaving the College in such good shape. Inspections now show quality at ‘good or better’, our HE meets all UK standards, we achieved ‘good’ in our most recent Ofsted inspection, the ESFA gave us a ‘good’ rating too for our healthy financial position.

“I’m extremely glad my teacher showed me how vocational training – such as apprenticeships – can lead to various careers and job roles. Schools play a critical role in showcasing vocational training as a viable, alternative route to reach the same endpoint as academic qualifications. These skills can lead to jobs at all levels and involve travel and an extensive variety of work, with lasting legacy projects.

“It’s so gratifying to see former students running successful companies themselves, as well as attracting a more diverse cohort of students to the sector today. We have come such a long way. So, this seems the right time for me to step down.”

Leeds College of Building now trains around 5,500 students from across the UK, covering 16-18 full-time study programmes, adult provision, HE courses, and bespoke programmes for employers. Over half of these students (around 2,800) are enrolled on apprenticeship training across all areas of the College’s provision, from Level 2 up to degree apprentices.

Making a Transformative Difference

Derek continues: “I have never lost a love of construction after all these years. Although Further Education is a challenging sector, to help students develop skills that can make a transformative difference to their future and society is an absolute privilege. It is the accomplishment of which I’m most proud.

“I would like to give a special thank you to all employers and stakeholders who have supported the College, students, and me personally, over the 18 years I’ve been here. I trust the commitment and dedication will continue with my successor, Nikki Davis. Leeds College of Building is a fantastic organisation to lead, and I know it will continue to go from strength to strength. I wish the College, our stakeholders, my amazing colleagues and friends, and Nikki all the very best.”

Derek Whitehead, Nikki Davis and Peter Norris

Nikki Davis, current Leeds College of Building Vice Principal for Teaching, Learning & Quality, will take up the role of Principal & CEO in August and becomes the first woman to hold the post in the 60-year history of the institution.


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