Richard Atkins, Further Education Commissioner

DfE confirm the appointment of a new Deputy FE Commissioner and two FE Advisers.

Deputy FEC Commissioner

  • Martin Sim - Martin Sim has spent almost 40 years working in the FE sector. He oversaw the merger of Pendleton, Eccles and Salford Colleges to form Salford City College, becoming principal and CEO in 2010.

FE Advisers

  • Nigel Duncan OBE - Nigel was previously principal and chief executive of Fareham College for 7 years and was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to further education.
  • Laraine Smith OBE - Laraine was formerly principal of Uxbridge College for 10 years and then principal and CEO of HCUC. She was awarded an OBE for services to further education in 2010.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“We are pleased to announce the appointment of Martin Sim, a new Deputy FE Commissioner, as well as Nigel Duncan and Laraine Smith who will serve as FE advisers.

“As part of the FE Commissioner’s team, Martin, Nigel and Laraine will play a vital role in supporting colleges to deliver high quality FE provision.”

The role of the FE Commissioner and his team forms part of the college oversight regime.

They assess colleges that have serious weaknesses or at risk of developing weaknesses in:

  • quality
  • financial health

This includes looking at:

  • leadership
  • governance

The purpose of the college oversight regime is to support colleges to recognise issues and take early action before problems become serious.

You can read the FE Commissioners latest annual report.


The FE Commissioner’s team works in conjunction with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and colleges to:

  • improve quality and sustainability
  • reduce the risk of failure

This work includes:

  • supporting colleges to improve their quality and financial health
  • working with colleges to reduce the risk of them requiring intervention
  • conducting interventions

When the FE Commissioner makes recommendations, the college is responsible for taking those actions forward.


The FE Commissioner and his team offer support by visiting colleges to conduct diagnostic assessments for colleges at risk from a quality or financial perspective.

They can support leadership teams and governing bodies to reduce the risk to learners and the likelihood of the college requiring formal intervention.

The diagnostic assessment works alongside the ESFA approaches to early intervention and risk assessment.

Other support initiatives led by the FE Commissioner’s team include:

Guidance on other support for FE and sixth-form colleges is also available.


The FE Commissioner’s team undertakes a formal intervention when serious weaknesses and risk of failure have been identified.

This involves:

  • conducting intervention assessment visits
  • preparing reports on their findings

You can find out more about our FE Commissioner visits and reports.

These assess the capacity of the existing governance and leadership of a college to deliver rapid and sustainable improvements.

The FE Commissioner’s team may conduct further visits to review progress against the recommendations.

Other FE Commissioner activities

Local provision review

This examines options for achieving long-term sustainable provision in a local area where the issues in a local area cannot be solved by looking at individual institutions in isolation.

Structure and Prospects Appraisals (SPAs)

This is a structured way of assessing options to change a college’s structure and provision in a clear, objective and evidence based way.

Who we are

The FE Commissioner is an independent adviser and leads a team of ex-principals and finance specialists with experience in FE.

The FE Commissioner and deputy roles are non-statutory.

The FE Principals Reference Group challenges and advises the Further Education Commissioner and contributes to policy development for colleges in the FE sector.

Further Education Commissioner

Deputy Education Commissioners

FE Advisers

John Boyle

John has been an adviser since 2015. He was previously a chartered banker and CEO in financial services. He specialises in sixth-form colleges.

Nigel Duncan OBE

Nigel was previously principal and chief executive of Fareham College for 7 years and was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to further education.

Mandy Exley

Mandy has been an adviser since 2016. She was formerly a principal and CEO. She specialises in curriculum and quality.

Anna Fitch

Anna has been an adviser since 2019. She was previously a regional audit manager, finance director and managing consultant. She specialises in finance.

Stephen McCormick

Stephen has been an adviser since 2015. He was formerly a vice principal, director of finance and group deputy CEO. He specialises in finance.

Josephine Nowacki

Josephine has been an adviser since 2015. She was previously a senior Ofsted inspector and has spent over 30 years in further education. She specialises in sixth-form colleges.

Catherine Prest

Catherine has been an adviser since 2018. She was formerly a vice principal and Ofsted inspector. She specialises in curriculum and quality.

Bob Smith

Bob has been an adviser since 2015. He was previously a director of finance, a partner at FE Associates, and has worked for the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC). He specialises in finance.

Laraine Smith OBE

Laraine was formerly principal of Uxbridge College for 10 years and then principal and CEO of HCUC. She was awarded an OBE for services to further education in 2010.

Louise Twigg

Louise has been an adviser since 2015, and has previously worked as a principal, Ofsted inspector and public sector consultant. She specialises in curriculum and quality.

Esme Winch

Esme has been an adviser since 2019. She was previously a finance director, managing director, chief financial officer, chief executive and principal. She specialises in finance.

The FE Principals Reference Group

The Principals Reference Group supports, challenges and advises the Further Education (FE) Commissioner in his role of improving performance in FE colleges and contributing to policy development for colleges in the FE sector.

The group:

  • acts as a forum for the FE Commissioner to consult serving college principals on critical issues in improving performance
  • acts as a confidential sounding board for other teams at the Department for Education (DfE) to test policy developments affecting FE colleges, bringing practitioner voice and expertise into the DfE
  • supports the engagement of the FE Commissioner and the DfE with other FE leaders, while retaining independence from the DfE
  • encourages the sharing of best practice
  • acts as an additional channel of communication between FE colleges and the DfE to convey issues pertinent to colleges
  • takes into account and passes on the views of colleges within the FE sector

The group will have no power of veto over operational or policy decisions.


The group will meet around 6 times a year, as required.


Membership includes the Further Education Commissioner and 7 serving chief executive principals. We appointed the principals through a fair and open recruitment process.

The principals are:


Office of the FE Commissioner 
Department for Education 
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