Ellen Thinnesen

Chief Executive

Overview

An inspiring leader, who has transformed post-16 education across the North East region, Ellen is CEO of Education Partnership North East. 

She first began her career as a qualified nurse and has previously held high profile positions within the education sector in Manchester and the Yorkshire and Humber regions.  

In her previous role as Principal and Chief Executive of Sunderland College, her ambitious vision led the college through two highly successful mergers, which have produced one of the largest college groups in the country.  

She has held numerous board positions in the education and not-for-profit sectors within the North East and beyond. She continues to contribute nationally to influence education policy and reform and is passionate about making a difference and raising aspirations. 

My first part time paid teaching job was at the age of 14 when I taught piano lessons.

Personable, determined and ambitious.

Walking Alfie, our black Labrador, spending time with my partner Dean and wider family. I see my parents every weekend.

I originally trained as a nurse in coronary care. I can also play piano and many many years ago, played the guitar, flute and recorder.

Governance

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Our people

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Our vision & values

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  • 1967

    Born in Cleethorpes to my parents Alan and Kathy, both remarkable people who have achieved great things in life and inspired me in so many different ways.

  • 1981

    My first part time paid teaching job was at the age of 14 when I taught piano lessons.

  • 1983-1985

    Between 16 and 18 years old whilst studying at my local Further Education College I had part time jobs at Asda and B&Q.

  • 1988

    I graduated as a Registered General Nurse with clinical experience in a wide range of areas such as medical and surgical nursing, orthopaedics, paediatrics, obstetrics, psychiatry and so on. Six months later I became the Nurse in charge of night shifts on a male medical ward in my local NHS hospital for patients with such things as heart conditions, respiratory problems, cancers, leukaemia and so on. Whilst working night shifts I resuscitated my first patient (who thankfully survived). The event was the catalyst for my subsequent employment over several years as a full time member of a resuscitation team in a hospital in the Yorkshire and Humber.

     

  • 1990

    My first child was born Aimee, who has just become a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in 2019/20.

  • 1992

    I was awarded Professional Certificates by the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, the first for Teaching and Assessing in Clinical Practice after whcih I went on to mentor and coach junior nurses starting their careers. The second,  a specialist certificate in Coronary Care Nursing. Whilst carrying out some specialist training, I was invited by a cardiothoracic surgeon at Castlehill Hospital in Hull to observe my first open heart surgery for valve replacement. Whilst this was positively life changing for the patient, it had a profound experience for me too and very much deepened my perspectives on life and death.

  • 1993

    I moved to London and worked at Kings College and St Thomas’ hospitals in Intensive Critical Care, and Medical Accident and Emergency. I recall dealing with my first ever teenage patient with severe anorexia nervosa who had a cardiac arrest in the elevator as I was transferring her to a hospital word. Fortunately my previous job helped and resuscitation was successful.

     

  • 1994

    I temporarily relocated to the United States and after further study and exams, I received certification from The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools, Pennsylvania, USA for proficiency in Nursing practice within the United States.

  • 1995

    My second child was born in America, Nathan, who not long ago finished working as a team member with the Red Arrows, and has recently completed his training as an avionics technician with the Royal Air Force.

  • 1997

    I volunteered in my first homeless shelter and soup kitchen in a deprived neighbourhood in Chicago, USA. I remember this clearly as metal detectors were on every door to alarm for guns and weapons, but moreso I recall the experience of the significant number of adults and children suffering from terrible levels of deprivation who came through the shelter doors into the evening.

  • 1999

    I returned to the UK and worked as a senior staff nurse with the medical elderly in a private care home whilst studying full time for a degree. I absolutely loved this job for many reasons, but one, was the opportunity to enrich end of life care for my many patients. To this day these multiple professional and personal experiences cemented my views and values about humanity.

  • 2001

    I was awarded BA Applied Social Science with first class honours from the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, now Lincoln University. Because of my previous professional experiences, my final research and dissertation was focussed on the subject of death and dying. The journey of my second career teaching in a further education college whilst also working night shifts within nursing. This was my first exposure to the world of further education and skills, but not my first experience of teaching, learning and assessing which I had done over the course of my first career in nursing.

  • 2004

    I was awarded Post Graduate Certificate Education and Training Post Compulsory Sector from the University of Huddersfield.

  • 2007

    I was awarded an MSc Leadership and Management in Education with Commendation from Sheffield Hallam University. Here I deepened my view about the importance of values based leadership. My final research and dissertation was focussed on leadership, widening participation and student attrition in further and higher education colleges.

  • 2008

    I became a board director and subsequently deputy chair at the Yorkshire and Humber YMCA, an organisation focused on Supported Housing for homeless people aged 16-35, activities and programmes for children and young people aged 0-25 within North East Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire and the Humberside area.

  • 2010

    I became an external examiner for a number of foundation degrees in health, social care and youth work at Gloucestershire University.

     

  • 2011

    I spent a year on secondment at Sheffield Hallam University taking a lead within the faculty of health and wellbeing for brokering employer relationships in order to develop new technical higher level degrees. It was here I was offered a full time job, and after deliberation, declined and made a life long decision to progress my passion and professional commitment to the incredible work of the further education sector. I was then appointed into a number of senior leadership positions at Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education after several years of years teaching, developing and leading curriculum and quality. During this time I lead a wide range of core functions including health, social care and sport, special education needs and disability, engineering, construction, business, computing and tourism, creative arts, English and Maths, Human Resources, Professional Development, Apprenticeships. During this time I also led the college through a successful OFSTED inspection.

     

  • 2011-2013

    I was appointed as Dean of Higher Education and along with great staff, we significantly grew a comprehensive higher education portfolio and established a credible university centre, which subsequently gave me the opportunity to lead Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education to achieve the prestigious grant of Foundation Degree Awarding Powers by the Privy Council. At the time the college was only the third or fourth college nationally to achieve this.

     

  • 2014

    I had my first published work as a contributor to a chapter in a SEDA publication entitled “Supporting Higher Education in College Settings” and became Deputy Principal Tameside College and Hyde Clarendon Sixth Form. This was my first experience of working to turn around a troubled college. It remains a college close to my heart and I’m always pleased to hear from afar of its many current day successes.

  • 2016 - Present

    I became Principal and Chief Executive at City of Sunderland College where my priority has been and remains to focus on the transformation of the college into a more sustainable, financially resilient, high performing college.