Chair of the Corporation Tony Minson retires after 8 years on the board of governors

We wish Tony all the best moving forward and thank him for all his efforts over the last 8 years. His service to the College has been of immense value and his presence will be greatly missed. Thank you, Tony!

Thank you Tony!

Chair of the Corporation Tony Minson has retired after 8 years on the board of governors at Hills Road Sixth Form College.

Tony has been an invaluable member of the team, which he has been part of since the spring of 2016.

He was Chair of the Corporation during the global pandemic, a period that was incredibly difficult to transverse. Yet, despite all the challenges that arose, Tony managed to effectively lead the team into calmer waters.

Tony has achieved a great deal during his time as a Governor and Chair of the Corporation. From supporting the college during its Ofsted inspections to overseeing several important additions to the college’s facilities, he has been a vital part of the college’s development.

We wish Tony all the best moving forward and thank him for all his efforts over the last 8 years. His service to the College has been of immense value and his presence will be greatly missed. Thank you, Tony!

Our interview with Tony

We sat down with Tony Minson, now former Chair of the Corporation, to get his thoughts on his biggest achievements and challenges while taking on this incredibly important role.

What made you want to join the Corporation in the Spring of 2016?

I can’t pretend that it was a very active decision. One of the governors asked me to apply. I’d finished being chair of CUP and although I was still employed (part-time) by the Press, my responsibilities were much lighter. So, I had time on my hands. My children had attended Hills Road, and I knew it was a great college. I’d spent most of my life in higher education and the opportunity to be involved in secondary education was attractive. So, I applied and was appointed.

What was it like to be Chair of the Corporation during the global pandemic?

The problems imposed by the pandemic were largely operational ones - adapting rapidly to remote teaching and student support, setting up antigen testing systems for staff and students, responding at very short notice to changing government policy on examination protocols, etc. These were very much matters for Jo and her colleagues. The job of the governors was to scrutinise proposed policies, ask difficult questions and support college leadership. The College and its governors were fortunate to have a very able leadership team supported by dedicated and hard-working staff. They coped with the pandemic amazingly well, as evidenced by the exam results and communications received from students and parents.

For me, the main problem was communication. The board/governing body of any organisation needs to develop a cohesive view (rather than a lot of individual opinions) and this involves discussion and communication, often outside formal meetings. But for nearly two years the governors met only remotely, and when we finally began to hold meetings ‘in person’, some of the governors had never met each other before. This was far from ideal and meant quite a lot of private phone calls to ensure that I understood the views of individual governors to avoid surprises at formal meetings.

Coping with the pandemic also meant that some things were put on hold. Estate maintenance and planning, for example, and this became a priority when the pandemic ended.

What was your biggest challenge during your time as Chair and how did you overcome this?

I can’t think of any personal challenges that are different from those faced by the College as a whole. The biggest challenge for the College was (and is) the increasing demand for places at Hills Road, and the certainty that this will increase as the population grows. Faced with this problem the College could either become more selective, increase its intake, or modify its admissions policy. Management and governors agreed that we did not wish the College to become more elite. We managed to grow the estate, increase our intake, and modify the admissions policy to limit the geographical area we serve. Our ‘big aim’ was to build a ‘second Hills Road’ in North East Cambridge. Despite the efforts of management and governors, this was not achieved.

The other really big challenge was the increasing problem of mental health among students. The problem is not solved and is, of course, national, but student welfare is now much better served through a combination of estate works and counselling/wellbeing staffing.

What do you think your biggest achievement was during your 8-year stint on the board?

Biggest achievement? I can’t think of a personal one. For College and governors as a whole:

  • The Ofsted inspection in 2022
  • The exam results of 2023
  • Expansion of student numbers
  • Estate improvements – canteen, toilet facilities, staff room, study areas.
  • Recruitment of some excellent governors over the past four years.

Biggest disappointment? Failure of the bid for a new free school, despite the brilliant efforts of Jo and her team to produce an excellent bid submission.

What do you plan to do in your newly found free time?

I’m not looking for new things to do. I still work (very) part time for CUP (now Press and Assessment). There’s the housework, the gardening, the shopping, and my children and grandchildren. At 80 I’m slowing down – it’s enough!

Final Thoughts

Finally, I should add a few words other than in answer to your questions.

Chairing a board or governing body can be very difficult and involve sleepless nights. This is something I’ve experienced. But HRSFC was so well-managed, and with such able and dedicated staff, that being chair of the Corporation was not a tough job. It was a pleasure and a privilege.

One of the last things I did as a governor was to attend the College Christmas Carol Service in Great St Mary’s. It was fabulous. Quality, joy, togetherness. A great reflection of the ethos of the College. A truly uplifting experience and a great finale to my time as a governor.

A mesage from Jo Trump, Principal of Hills Road

I have loved working with Tony and he has taught me most of what I know about governance and working with governors. Tony’s view was that he and I needed to talk things through such that we had thrashed out a joint perspective on most issues before we discussed it with a wider audience. Tony’s phrase was there shouldn’t be a cigarette paper between us on big strategic issues when we were presenting to the wider Corporation and I am enormously grateful for that joined-up approach.”

And of course it turned out that, if you are going to have a global pandemic, then having a professor of virology as your chair of governors is a very excellent place to be. Tony was a steady source of support and good sense throughout covid. We spoke regularly. Evenings and weekends often when the latest difficult news would come at no notice as to what schools should or shouldn’t be doing. And always the guidance was useless in our context. Year group bubbles - hopeless. Amidst all the anger and emotion of staff and parents, Tony was a steady source of good sense. When the very worried and the devil may care all had strong, opposing views on how the college should be responding, Tony was a really helpful sounding board. Generally he used science to help his thoughts on decisions and generally I used his good sense to help mine. I will be forever grateful for that support. It helped to get me through the most difficult of leadership times.

And I hope Tony can be really proud of the legacy he leaves. He’s assembled a talented cast of governors to support and challenge us as senior leaders and together, we’re custodians. The college is not ours. It belongs to both past and future generations. We are passing through and need to keep focused on shaping a college that is ready for whatever the future holds.

So as the curtain descends on this final act, it remains to say I shall miss Tony enormously. I shall miss his wit and his wisdom, his diligence and his appetite for debate. I shall miss the delight he takes in making other people just a little bit uncomfortable and I shall miss his big heart full of moral purpose.