RSL Awards appoints Suzanne Harlow as new CEO, John Simpson to step down.

RSL Awards Ltd (Rockschool), the leading global provider of contemporary music and arts vocational and graded music qualifications, today announced that Suzanne Harlow has been named as the new CEO, effective 4 January 2021.


John Simpson has led the RSL Awards business since 2013, and has repositioned RSL from a niche UK awarding body to a global leader in contemporary music and arts. During his tenure, the business has grown exponentially and has delivered consistent top and bottom-line growth in all of its markets. RSL recently launched a pioneering new digital examining model during the Covid-19 pandemic, revolutionising the options available to candidates so that they are still able to take their exams during these difficult times.

“Our company is in great shape and has a very solid base on which to continue developing our growing product portfolio. The leadership team now in place boasts capabilities in digital, data, design, academically benchmarked materials, marketing, and global operations. These broader capabilities are essential for solving the increasingly complex challenges facing students, teachers and parents and will ensure the business continues to move forward,” says Simpson.

Suzanne Harlow will take over as CEO on 4 January 2021. John will support the transition process in the first quarter of 2021 and will then embark on a 5 year sailing circumnavigation. He will remain a non-executive board member and shareholder of RSL Awards.

Suzanne brings to the position a wealth of knowledge and an array of experiences in the private equity and the global retail sector, previously being a Main Board Director for Debenhams and most recently CEO of clothing retailer Jack Wills. Coupled with the existing RSL senior team, her leadership skills will be instrumental in taking RSL forward to the next stage of development. New syllabi, the digitisation of the whole learning, teaching and exams process and ongoing international delivery, especially in the Americas and south east Asia, will ensure the continued growth of RSL across the globe.

This executive leadership appointment forms part of RSL Awards’ long term strategy to manage our expanding digital portfolio and continuing to change the face of music and arts education across the world.

RSL Awards Founder, Mr Norton York said, “John’s vision and drive, combined with his commitment to serving the best long-term interests of our company and our people, have materially strengthened RSL Awards. He leaves a company well placed to win in this fast-changing, dynamic industry. I’d like to thank him personally, and on behalf of the Board, for his contribution to RSL Awards. We are delighted to have Suzanne joining us and provide the leadership to ensure our continued upward trajectory”.

RSL Awards CEO, Mr John Simpson said, “This change of executive leadership offers an exciting opportunity that will strengthen and expand our geographical presence to provide graded solutions and learning opportunities for all our customers, within the education sector as a whole, not just contemporary” explains Simpson. “With our existing range of high quality qualifications, the onboarding of a new CEO supports our strategy to lead the market and meet the future requirements in this demanding market”.

RSL Awards incoming CEO, Suzanne Harlow said, “I am delighted to be joining RSL at this exciting time. The business is well positioned to develop further in the UK and across the world in both graded exams and the vocational qualifications and to be joining the leading Awarding Organisation in the digitisation of the market is a great privilege".


About RSL Awards Ltd

In 1991, under the direction of founder Norton York, Rockschool created a unique set of products for a brand-new marketplace: recognised, graded qualifications for contemporary musicians. The traditional instruments performing in a rock band were included in the original graded examinations, Electric guitar, Bass guitar and Drums. After the initial success with these instruments, the company has developed syllabi in Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Piano and Keyboards, Ukulele, Contemporary Music Theory and the world's first Music Production syllabus.

Over recent years the company, based in West London, has developed a full suite of Vocational Qualifications for the creative industries, which are delivered in over 500 schools and colleges, principally in the UK. These sit alongside a program of contemporary dance qualifications, covering three distinct disciplines: musical theatre, jazz and street dance and a new suite of first to market CQ qualifications in Vlogging and Podcasting.

A head office team of 50, and a team of over 150 highly trained and certified global examiners, assessors and moderators help deliver the qualifications across the globe. Rockschool qualifications are recognised and regulated at the highest level by Ofqual, SFA, CCEA, Qualifications Wales and the Department for Education, with all successful level 3 (Grades 6–8) exams being awarded UCAS points, bolstering university applications.