John Skitt obituary

Other lives: Champion of further education and the opportunities it offered to working-class young people

My friend John Skitt, who has died aged 72, devoted his professional life to further education, and was principal of Barnet College, north London, from 1985 to 2003. John believed passionately that further education provided a key means of mitigating inequality. He worked tirelessly to champion the sector, in which many working-class students obtain qualifications, both vocational and academic.

John was born in Saltaire, West Yorkshire, the son of John (Jack), a chief officer in local government, and Sarah (nee Mclellan). John attended 10 schools, the last of which was Baines grammar, Blackpool.

In 1964 he went to Lancaster University to take a BA in international history and politics. We met in 1967, when he was studying for an MA in international politics, also at Lancaster. He was an enthusiastic internationalist, a lifelong Liberal and a great believer in the application of liberal values in all social contexts.

In 1969 John was appointed a part-time lecturer at Lancaster and Morecambe College of Further Education. He then became a local government training officer, working in the London boroughs of Camden and Lewisham (1971-73). He spent three years at Middlesex Polytechnic (now University) as a senior lecturer in local government studies. In 1976 he became head of business studies at Barnfield College, Luton, moving to the role of head of the faculty of business studies at Luton College of Higher Education (now the University of Bedfordshire) in 1979. In 1981 he became vice-principal, and in 1985 principal, of Barnet College.

Following his retirement in 2003, he embarked on a new venture, training to become a magistrate, a role he undertook for 10 years. He was also active in his local community, as governor of a local comprehensive school for 26 years, and involved with local patient participation groups.

John was a man of phenomenal energy. Alongside his work and other professional and community activities, he played cricket, football, tennis and golf; he loved travelling and had friends and colleagues in the US, Australia and across Europe; he was a keen fell walker in the Lake District and an enthusiast for real ale, pubs and good food. In addition, he was an excellent cook and a sociable and popular host. John had a rare warmth and a genuine affection for people of all backgrounds.

He is survived by Audrey, his wife of 49 years, their two sons, John and Paul, and five grandchildren.

Richard Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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