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Open College Network West Midlands Centres: Lifetime learning for all

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Our Chris's Story

Thursday, 23 January 2020
In this article we feature our very own CEO, Christine Assheton, who recently celebrated 20 years continuous service working with the Open College Network.

Chris Assheton is a leader with determination and staying power who knows what it takes to show real leadership in the face of adversity.  She has been the CEO of Open College Network West Midlands for the last 15 years, overseeing complex company mergers and restructuring and leading the organisation through particularly challenging times in more recent years as the education and awarding sector in the UK has been subject to ongoing and radical change. 
 
 
So how did it all start?

I joined the Open College Network Central England (OCNCE) on January 9th 2000.  I was employed on a 6-month contract to cover maternity leave for Julie Smith (now Murphy).  I already knew all about the organisation as I had taught and moderated Access to HE courses approved by this OCN.  I was employed as a Development Officer which meant I worked with the centres and developed courses for them.  I also developed NOCN courses and qualifications but my main specialism was with the Access to HE provision.  I ran the tutor groups, worked with the centres to review and develop their Access to HE courses and organised and worked with the Chairs for the approval panels.  

Staff who worked there were Cathy Riley, Gill Carter, Irene Jessop, Elaine Barker (now working with Open College Network West Midlands again), Maree Lyall, and the admin team Jennie, Kate and Tara.  My 6-month temporary contract was extended by another 6 months and then eventually made permanent. Later, when NOCN became an Awarding Body, I also developed national qualifications with other staff in the national network. 
 
 
How quickly did you move into a Senior Manager role and become the boss at Open College Network West Midlands?
 
This happened quite quickly for me.  In 2003, I became the Director of OCNCE when Sue Georgious left to join NOCN.  This was just at the point when the national network was discussing rationalisation and merging the 30+ OCNs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland into 11 new organisations – 9 regional organisations in England, 1 in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland.
I worked with the Director of Open College Network West Midlands, Enda Donnelly and the Acting Director of Open College Network North West Midlands, Gen Lowson, to bring the three organisations together setting up a new company Open College Network West Midlands Region, to merge into.  In June 2005, I was appointed CEO of this new organisation and officially began on 1st August 2005.  I’ve been in the role ever since.
 
 
More Information about Chris

Having married and had children, Chris began her university education with the Open University before transferring to the University of Warwick to complete her BA and then an MA in Labour History.  She is passionate about lifelong learning and believes strongly in the need to continuously update personal skills and Chris leads by example in this as she continues to access training that is both useful to her and the organisation.  This includes training with The Governance Forum leading to becoming a member of the Association of Corporate Governance Practitioners in 2015 and being involved with Vistage, the world-renowned executive coaching and leadership organisation.  Chris has put these skills into practice as a Trustee of a Multi Academy Trust, another Awarding Organisation as well as sitting on various Committees. 
 
In her spare time, Chris enjoys walking and going to the theatre, particularly the RSC in Stratford as well as gardening and is presently completely redesigning her own garden.
 
 
More about Open College Network West Midlands
 
Open College Network West Midlands helps to transform peoples’ lives through enabling learning and releasing the potential of people and their communities.  The organisation works in partnership with colleges, universities, employers, schools and voluntary and community organisations to offer a wide range of vocational credit-based qualifications and other bespoke accreditation services that enable learners to gain employment or to progress into further learning and Higher Education. 
 
The organisation has a very proud history of developing skills solutions across almost all industry sectors and across four decades, yet despite this longevity it maintains a relentless drive to move with the times and to adapt and change for the better.   In a crowded qualifications marketplace with over 150 National Awarding Organisations operating, Open College Network West Midlands stands out for offering exceptional customer service and highly flexible and responsive support  giving it a well-earned ‘national accreditation - local service’ reputation.  The company also operates internationally as well as nationally throughout the UK and this is very much seen as a growth area moving forwards.
 
Open College Network West Midlands operates with ethical and sustainable business practices and is proud of its not for profit, charitable status which means the company is constantly re-investing in its products, services and staff to achieve its vision of ‘being the best we can be.’   This has resulted in a range of innovative skills solutions and new product offerings.
 
Chris Assheton says; “I feel privileged to have led this amazing organisation for 15 years.  It’s been so rewarding to see the enormous impact and positive outcomes we have achieved in improving people’s life chances through the education and lifelong learning we enable, and to achieve this whilst remaining true to our core values and beliefs.”
 
Open College Network West Midlands will continue to develop and adapt its qualifications and accreditation services to ensure they remain relevant and fit for purpose so that they can play their important part in equipping the nation with the skills industry needs  both now and in the future. Chris is due to retire in July 2020 but together with her senior managers and very hard-working and dedicated staff team, Chris has navigated the organisation through recent storms to ensure it can remain a successful Awarding Body with a bright future ahead.
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