Leadership Insights

Upholding Quality in Further Education: A Conversation with Barbara Veeramallay-Permaul

May 12, 2024

Table of Contents


With over 25 years of experience in skills, education, and employability, I've built a strong reputation as a strategic leader known for improving the quality of educational services. I specialise in transforming businesses in full-time roles, consultancy, or as a non-executive director (NED), guiding businesses from their early beginnings to becoming top-tier providers. I've helped organisations meet regulatory standards such as Ofsted throughout my career, raising many to 'Good' status. I've worked with various EPAOs, awarding bodies, and the ESFA, including managing RoATP applications and coordinating compliance audits.

I've successfully implemented standards such as Merlin and Matrix and have played a key role in safeguarding in education and religious settings, serving as a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). I'm actively involved in ensuring strong safeguarding protocols in religious institutions, following CSSA and RLSS frameworks, and preparing for audits in 2024/25.

Skilled at creating and delivering strategic initiatives and leadership that drive organisational success, collaborating across departments to achieve goals and maintain high educational and service standards. My approach prioritises the learner's experience, aligning organisational goals to improve their journey.

Why did you choose a career in further education?

I began my career in retail, quickly discovering a genuine passion for training, mentoring, and coaching staff to build successful teams. This unlocked new opportunities for me with a major high street retailer, where I worked with the head office Learning & Development team to design a bespoke training program for staff. After several years in senior management roles, I was recognised as an excellent coach and mentor, with a knack for creating high-performing teams.

The experience I gained in retail honed my skills in leadership, communication, and problem-solving, reinforcing my belief in the transformative power of education and professional development. I learned how to tailor training methods to different learning styles, motivate individuals to reach their full potential and create a culture of continuous improvement.

These insights and skills naturally led me to pursue a career in education, where I could combine my passion for education with my ability to inspire and empower others. My commitment to fostering positive learning environments, coupled with my strategic approach to training, has made me deeply dedicated to helping individuals succeed in their careers either in education or employability settings.

Tell us about a notable early experience in your career

In my early career in retail, I was acknowledged and awarded for my significant contributions to creating and implementing a development program that markedly improved staff retention within the company. This success led to my six-month secondment to the head office training department, where I was involved in further developing training initiatives for future managers.

This experience was pivotal, shifting my career path and igniting a strong desire to support others through work-based learning and employability. During this period, I fine-tuned my skills in designing training strategies that were not only effective but also motivational. I learned how to engage a diverse workforce and meet the varied needs of staff at different stages of their careers, ensuring that everyone had the tools and knowledge needed to succeed.

This foundational experience deeply influenced my passion for education and my commitment to nurturing talent across all levels of an organisation.

How have you developed your career as a leader in further education?

Throughout my career, I have consistently prioritised continuous personal development, recognising its critical role in staying informed about government policies and educational best practices. I actively engage with my professional network, participate in webinars, attend conferences, and regularly read sector updates, current challenges, and innovations.

I benefit greatly from having a personal mentor who holds a senior position in the sector. This relationship allows me to discuss ideas and gain well-rounded perspectives, which is invaluable for my professional growth and decision-making.

Additionally, I take every opportunity to attend training courses, including those that offer accredited and recognised qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). These activities not only enhance my knowledge and skills but also keep me connected with the latest educational trends and practices, ensuring I can offer the best possible support and leadership to others.

Tell us about some key achievements in your career

In November 2019, I had a great opportunity to work with an educational provider aiming to build and expand into apprenticeship training. I joined the business when the team, while technically adept, had limited knowledge of apprenticeships and the wider curriculum. Throughout 2020, a challenging year marked by the pandemic and national lockdowns, I established a competent team. We developed comprehensive policies, and procedures, and expanded our curriculum offer to cater to the needs of several hundred apprentices, using the Ofsted Inspection Framework as our benchmark.

Just 12 months after beginning this development, I successfully led the business through its first Ofsted inspection as a new provider. By mid-2022, 18 months into delivery, I had steered the organisation to achieve a strong "GOOD" rating from Ofsted.

Additionally, in my role as a Non-Executive Director (NED), I have supported various organisations through the Ofsted inspection process, consistently helping them achieve "Good" gradings. This highlights my ability to effectively guide educational providers through critical evaluations, ensuring they meet and often exceed the required standards.

What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

Understanding the perspectives of learners is crucial for assessing the quality of education in any educational setting. Unfortunately, the pursuit of profit can sometimes overshadow this, a trend I have observed across the sector. The most effective approach I've adopted involves collaborating across all functions within an organisation to guide them toward practices that meet learners' expectations. This, I believe, is where true success is found.

The voice of the learner is essential for educational leaders to accurately gauge and respond to any shortcomings in the educational experience. Gathering robust data on learner satisfaction and experiences is not just beneficial; it's a powerful tool for steering improvements. Ignoring this feedback can lead to a disconnect between what is taught and the needs and expectations of the learners, ultimately compromising the quality of education and the institution’s reputation.

What are your thoughts on improving the further education sector?

I believe there are several ways the UK educational system could be improved to better support our workforce and bridge skills gaps in this quickly changing job market. By including key subjects in the national curriculum, such as technology, entrepreneurship, business development, and industry-specific topics, we can ensure the UK remains at the forefront, securing our economic future. Additionally, enhanced career guidance and support will enable learners to make choices that align with market demands.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders in further education?

Simple - listen to your learners!

Find out more

You can find Barbara on LinkedIn so connect and follow her there.

Additionally, Barbara writes about Ofsted Trends here at Bolt - you can subscribe to her weekly newsletter here.

Alex Lockey
Director | Bolt Jobs
Founder Alex Lockey is an expert in further education, learning, and skills sector. He leads cost-effective hiring solutions and is known for successful talent placements. Dynamic and driven, Alex seeks innovative solutions to solve sector hiring challenges.