Our Leadership Team

These are the people responsible for the day to day running of Activate Learning.

A warm welcome from our leadership team

Activate Learning is led by a well-established Group Executive Team, which enjoys both breadth and depth in professional and management experience. This team are responsible for the strategic management of the Activate Learning group, and are supported by a strong Group Leadership Team, comprising Directors from across the business.

At Activate Learning we are well known for developing talented people who are sought after by businesses around the world. This is because we go beyond giving you great qualifications. Our focus is on building the mindset, attributes and skills that are most relevant for the ever-changing workplace, and developing you personally so you open up future career and life possibilities you cannot yet imagine.

Gary Headland

Group Chief Executive, Activate Learning

Our Leadership Team

Cheri Ashby Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Passionate about Activate Learning’s mission to transform lives through its award-winning Learning Philosophy, Cheri’s role as Deputy Chief Executive encompasses responsibility for our curriculum. Furthermore, she has become the nominated individual for leading on behalf of Activate Learning in Ofsted inspections. She has also joined the Trust Board of Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET), which oversees our schools.

With over 25 years’ experience in the Further Education sector, Cheri has undertaken several different roles, including teacher, course leader, curriculum manager, Assistant Principal, Head of Campus, and Group Executive Director.

During 2019-20, Cheri led on the merger of the Surrey Colleges (Guildford College, Merrist Wood College, and Farnham College) into Activate Learning.

Cheri enjoys being part of a large group committed to transforming lives through education. During her employment at Activate Learning, Cheri has had ongoing opportunities to ‘learn on the job’; she is a champion of Activate Learning’s Philosophy and is delighted that the organisation continues to retain a strong focus on learners, learning, curriculum design and delivery.

In her spare time, Cheri enjoys several activities, including travelling (Asia being a particular area of interest), sailing, gardening, walking, and reading.

Jon Adams Chief Strategy Officer

Jon is one of Activate Learning’s Executive Directors, with responsibility for Business development. He is responsible for the growth of our organisation, especially commercial income, international work, Higher Education, and our stakeholder engagement strategy.

Spending the first twelve years of his career in the welfare to work sector, Jon worked to help long-term unemployed people back into work. Starting out as an Employment Advisor, Jon progressed through various management roles with Ingeus UK (a private provider of employment support services), to become Director of Operations and subsequently Director of Business Development. In 2015 Jon was appointed as CEO of ATG Training, which became part of Activate Learning in 2017 and has since been fully integrated into the organisation.

Jon enjoys working for an organisation that aspires to provide more than just technical training and education, but instead seeks to prepare people for successful careers. He is especially proud of Activate Learning’s work with many young people who have not previously had a positive experience of education. Jon has always been passionate about providing services that make a positive difference to people’s lives, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Louise Basu Chief People Officer

As Activate Learning’s Group Director of People & Change, Louise is responsible for creating and driving the Staff Journey, which focuses on the workplace experience of our employees. Championing a positive and impactful employee experience, Louise has a keen focus on building a participative environment that is fully inclusive, so that everyone can bring their whole selves to work and feel welcomed into the organisation, thriving in whatever their role or chosen pathway.

With a commercial background in Sales, Pharma and Finance, Louise brings a customer and brand focused approach and an ability to work at pace within a changing people climate. Upon joining Activate Learning in early 2019, she immediately established the need to build a specialist Talent Acquisition function as well as a team dedicated to providing Learning and Development for employees to take personal accountability for their careers. Both are now thriving functions and have evolved to meet the diverse needs of our changing workplace culture and employee communities over recent years.

Louise is driven by continuous improvements to the employee experience and channels this people-centric approach through her work both as an organisational leader and as a functional director. Louise has developed the People function to one which partners impactfully with the business through both professional expertise and robust data. Louise balances this by building a culture which nurtures wellbeing and the importance of hearing individual voices, alongside one which recognises potential and develops people to build diverse career pathways within Activate Learning.

Outside of work, Louise prioritises relaxing with family and friends, planning trips away, and reading with her lively Book Club.


Neil Brookes Executive Director Faculties and College (North)

Having worked in the Further Education and Skills sector since 2001, Neil has worked as a Learning Support Assistant and teacher of English before moving into leadership roles like course leader, Curriculum Manager and Director. He has also, for many years, held Chief Examiner roles in English qualifications and for Level 5 Subject Specialism qualification for UK Universities.

Being passionate about Further Education and the role it plays both locally and nationally, Neil is a passionate advocate for Activate Learning’s mission of transforming lives through learning. A key area of focus for Neil as an Executive Director for Faculty and College is to maximise skills currency and progression opportunities for all learners through the development of stakeholder relationships across the regions within his portfolio: Oxfordshire and Berkshire (Reading).

Outside of work, Neil enjoys travel and reading as well as spending time with family and friends.

Paul Newman Executive Director Faculties and Colleges (South)

As Executive Director Paul Newman has strategic oversight for our student services, the student experience, student voice, student satisfaction on our campuses and online and the physical environment for our students. Paul is responsible for contributing to Activate Learning’s strategic plan, as well as overseeing regional key stakeholder relationships including membership of the Thames Valley Berkshire LEP, Reading UK and Chair of UTC Reading Local Governance Committee. Having worked with Activate Learning for twenty-four years, Paul has progressed through a number of different roles, including technician support, teacher, manager, senior manager, director, assistant principal and principal (interim).

During his time working with Activate Learning, Paul has enjoyed the support and development opportunities available, as well as the chance to be challenged, particularly when overseeing the Bracknell merger. The variety of work, the people (both colleagues and students), the direction of the organisation and having a manager who invests time into his development are also important elements of Paul’s role at Activate Learning. A significant part of Paul’s interest in his work is also the aspect of understanding people, relationships and behaviours.

Outside of work, Paul’s pastimes include home improvement, motorcycling, walking, cycling and spending time with family.

Steve Ball Chief Operating Officer

As Chief Operating Officer, Steve’s main responsibilities include establishing and delivering a group financial strategy, as well as line managing all financial processes within the Group. Steve is also responsible for the line management of IT and Property & Estates and leading on the merger processes (legal and financial structuring) for Bracknell & Wokingham and Guildford.

Steve has significant experience in leadership roles in Retail (Marks & Spencer), Supply Chain (DHL) and Education (SEMTA), and is also a qualified accountant.

In terms of his role with Activate Learning, Steve takes a keen interest in driving change and making a difference. He believes that he is able to use his financial experience and expertise to generate value, knowing that the organisation is helping people to become employable. Steve also takes pride in leading and developing teams, and ensuring that finance (and similar functions) are ‘partners’ to the organisation and supporting and improving decision making – rather than operating as remote disengaged ‘experts’.

In his free time, Steve enjoys good food and wine, spending time with family and friends, travelling, sport (with a particular interest in football) and theatre.