Peter Birkett

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Sir Peter Birkett is a British educator and entrepreneur, known for being the Chief Executive of Barnfield College, Luton. It was the first Further Education College in the country and one of only six providers to receive Accredited School Group (ASG) status – a scheme to ensure the best education leaders are able to form federations, in order to drive up standards at primary and secondary levels throughout the country. This federation made up of a Post 16 FE College, two Secondary Schools, two Primary Schools and two academies for 14-18 year old. In September 2007 Barnfield broke new ground when it became the first Further Education College in the country to sponsor two underperforming secondary schools in Luton, create a federation and turn them around in just two years [1] .Due to this achievement, Peter Birkett was Knighted in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to further education and the academy movement [2]


Birkett was first educated as an engineer and obtained a range of engineering diplomas. He then trained as a teacher at Huddersfield Polytechnic (University of Huddersfield), where he received his Certificate of Education in Educational Leadership and Administration. He then obtained a Master degree in Leadership, Management and IT at the University of Reading


Leaving school at the age of 16, he served 5-year engineering apprenticeship-attending college on a day release basis, studying for engineering qualifications. Birkett started as an engineer in Clugston Engineer, Scunthorpe. On completion of his apprenticeship, he travelled to Australia to further and broaden his skills as a qualified engineer. In Australia he worked for Babcock’s & Wilcox and Kilpatrick Green before being made redundant due to a recession in Sydney, Australia. As a result of redundancy Birkett chose a change of career securing a position as a wine salesman at Pieroth French Wines, selling French wine to Australians. During his time as an engineer and selling wine, he found his passion in working with and teaching people. Upon returning to England, he trained as a teacher by Huddersfield Polytechnic. His first teaching appointment was at Basingstoke College of Technology in 1985 where he stayed after two promotions until 1996. He was then promoted to the position as Director of Technology and then Assistant Principal at Bristol College, Bristol, until he joined the Sheffield College as Vice Principal in 2002.

Birkett made history breaking new ground in 2007 when he became the first FE College Principal in the UK to be given approval by the then Labour Government to sponsor two underperforming schools and create a College led Federation,  Barnfield College. Birkett also in 2007 led the college through an outstanding OFSTED inspection, reaffirmed Beacon Status. Barnfield College was the largest college in Bedfordshire and Luton with a wide range of vocational courses and career opportunities, rated among the top 5% of colleges nationally by Ofsted [3] and in 2003 became the first FE college to earn Beacon status. Under his management, Barnfield success rate was 94%, and the two previously failing secondary schools were rated number one and number three in Luton. The federation has been awarded as Best School Operator nationally in 2013 and shortlisted for School Operator – Academy Chain in the Education Investor Awards 2013. [4] Today, over 45 colleges have adopted this model nationally.

Unfortunately, in 2013, Barnfield Federation was questioned by both the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) into alleged funding of “ghost learners” and financial mismanagement at Barnfield Federation [5]. In the published findings from their investigations, they stated that they did not find any expenditure that would be considered profligate, although some academy expenditure is considered irregular and improper such as annual staff recognition event, expensive gift and ornaments for staff. Salary and bonus of CEO and senior management are also stated as inappropriate without governor oversight. Birkett was considered highest paid further education head in the country [6]. Against the wishes of the Board Birkett resigned as CEO of the federation after signing a compromise agreement that protected both parties interests [7] . A spokesperson for the Barnfield Federation told FE Week: “Barnfield has severed all links with Sir Peter Birkett, and we regret that he finds it necessary to discuss the organisation in his retirement. Barnfield has moved on.”

After that, in December 2013 Birkett became the CEO of UK and Europe for GEMS Education but resigned in 2014, saying that the Department for Education investigation of the Barnfield Federation had "achieved prominence in the press" to stop the issue becoming "an undue distraction for my colleagues and the work of GEMS Education." [8]

As of 2015, Birkett has become managing director of p5e (Passion5Excellence) His organisation claims to be "Driving education and skills success through Partnerships and Innovative Practice" [9]. Their five key values are Fix – Implement school and college turnaround, Create – New schools, colleges, groups and structures, Change – Inject new thinking to improve performance, Find – Independent schools for private investors, and Help  – Engaging all stakeholders to drive change. Birkett and p5e's partners include the institute for independent business, highgate hill house school, teach international group, ruskin education , kids learning club, impact ed, and etc.

At the same time, Birkett have been both a Government adviser and Director on several National Boards. He have spoken and continue to present at national and international conferences around the world. He stated his view in 2 critical elements needed to create great school, namely leadership and teaching. The leader whether in education or business creates the ethos and sets the standards. Good leaders are not always liked but usually respected [10] . In 2016, he visited many schools such as his former secondary school, Frederick Gough , High Elms Manor School, Briarwood School and Joy Special Education Needs. Birkett was also very active in working as consultant internationally with Saudi Arabia, the United States or China.

In 2017, he launched brand new PhD in ethical leadership, at St Thomas University, Texas. He claimed that in 2017 he will focus more on educational activities that enable young, special needs children to reach their potential. Also, he stated his interests in developing the next generation of business leadership potential through a series of talks and career advices [11] Due to these principles, Peter Birkett was invited to be a VIP guest at this years Private equity Africa awards ceremony. He was asked to make a short speech and present a new award named Venture Philanthropy Africa focussing on investing in Children and Education in Africa.

Achievements and awards[edit]

In 2012 Birkett was runner up in the education investor – “individuals contribution” award.

In November 2013 Birkett collected the national Education Investor award for the best performing "School operator – academy chain" on behalf of Barnfield Federation. They were also named in the chain reaction report and one of the highest performing academy chains. 


  1. ^ "Barnfield Chief Executive Welcomes Accreditation Status". PRWeb. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  2. ^ "The Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2012 - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2016-05-31. 
  3. ^ "Barnfield Academies Impress Ofsted Inspectors". PRWeb. Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  4. ^ "Barnfield Shortlisted for Prestigious National Awards". PRWeb. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  5. ^ reporter, FE Week (2013-02-26). "Government funding agencies publish reports on Barnfield Federation". FE Week. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  6. ^ "Figures reveal ex-Barnfield Federation CEO Sir Peter Birkett was highest paid further education head in the country". Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  7. ^ Cooney, Rebecca (2014-05-30). "Ex-Barnfield boss talks ghost learners, financial probes and the Audi pay-off". FE Week. Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  8. ^ "Ex-Barnfield boss resigns from new post due to DfE probe". Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  9. ^ "Home | Passion5Excellence". Home | Passion5Excellence. Retrieved 2016-09-30. 
  10. ^ "Home | Passion5Excellence". Home | Passion5Excellence. Retrieved 2017-04-30. 
  11. ^ "2017 Speakers". Retrieved 2017-06-02.