The winners of the Tes FE Awards 2020, were announced on Friday 16 October 2020 at our virtual FE Awards ceremony. Below are the winners in each category. Click the name of the winner to view more information.

The winners e-book is available here.

Watch the awards!

Tes FE Awards Winners 2020

Lifetime achievement
Ruth Spellman

Sponsored by

Ruth Spellman made history in 2012 when she was appointed chief executive of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), becoming the first woman to hold the role since the organisation’s foundation in 1903. There was a sense of a destiny being fulfilled: Spellman had already followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather by lecturing at the renowned institution.

Spellman has dedicated her working life to lifelong learning. Her early career in the public sector saw her lead the HR consulting practice at Coopers and Lybrand before becoming HR director at the NSPCC, modernising the organisation’s approach to staff development. She went on to lead Investors in People before becoming the first female chief executive of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, where she championed diversity in the industry.

In 2007, Spellman was awarded an OBE for services to workplace learning. Her focus while at the helm of the WEA has been working to reverse the decline of adult learning, spearheading partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, the University of Warwick and the Open University. She was instrumental in developing the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education and, last year, became a member of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education.

She retired from the WEA in 2019 but hasn’t stopped advocating for the sector she loves, serving as a board member of the charity Adviza, the Open University and the Learning and Work Institute.

The judges said: “Ruth has given her life to FE: she’s a worthy winner and is well regarded by all who have had the pleasure of working alongside her.”

Outstanding use of technology for improving teaching, learning and assessment
Cardiff and Vale College

Sponsored by

This category was particularly closely fought – the judges felt that the overall standard was incredibly high. But they were in agreement as to the outstanding entry.

Cardiff and Vale College is on a mission: to empower learners to be the innovators of the future. And the college’s technology enhanced learning (TEL) team has introduced a host of initiatives to do exactly that. Teachers use virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality headsets to ensure learners get the most out of the technology. In one lesson on schizophrenia, learners watched a 360˚ VR video to experience what it’s like to have the condition. They used their experience and online research to produce a script for a news report on schizophrenia and its treatment before filming the segment in front of a green screen. Building is under way for an immersive 3D house and a 3D aerospace model to accommodate future projects.

The college participates in Jisc digital insights and capability programmes, with staff working towards “explorer” and “pioneer” badges. Teachers also work towards becoming Microsoft-certified educators and are supported by departmental digital leaders to do so. All of this continuing professional development and gained knowledge doesn’t stay within the college’s four walls: this year, the TEL team hosted the second Let’s Get Phygital event, bringing together primary, secondary and FE educators.

The judges said: “The strategic approach taken by Cardiff and Vale ensures longevity and concentrates on the world beyond the college walls to provide a bigger, broader economic benefit to the community.”

Apprenticeship programme of the year
Skills Training UK

Sponsored by

Non-destructive testing (NDT) specialists are crucial to the safety of the aerospace, oil and gas industries. Until recently, 60 per cent of workers were aged 60 and above, with just 13 per cent of workers being under the age of 40. It was a skills gap that urgently needed addressing. And that’s what Skills Training UK did.

The training provider worked with the British Institute of Non- Destructive Testing to understand the market and established three new apprenticeships: level 2 NDT operator, level 3 NDT engineering technician and – in partnership with the University of Northampton – a level 6 NDT engineer degree apprenticeship.

Skills Training UK is now the largest NDT apprentice provider in the UK, and currently has 174 apprentices in training at 74 companies. Some 60 per cent of these apprentices are aged 16-24.

It established contracts with six specialised training schools to deliver the technical method training. The provider has also opened a materials testing office in Sheffield next to an advanced manufacturing park and within close proximity of three training school partners.

The judges praised Skills Training UK’s innovative approach and said that the provider had responded to a particular need across a number of industries. “The programme is totally employer focused and is very specific,” they said. “It works together with sector bodies, local authorities and colleges in the region. As a result, the quality of apprenticeships is excellent. It’s clear to see it’s had a real impact right across the country.”

Support for learners
Cambridge Regional College

An astonishing 93 per cent of students at Cambridge Regional College say they are happy to ask for support with mental health. At a time when more young people than ever are experiencing mental health challenges and external services are buckling under the pressure, the college has embedded a range of forward-thinking initiatives to ensure that its students are willing to ask for help and know where to turn.

The college launched an online hub to provide 24/7 support for all students, including those such as apprentices, who may find it harder to access support services during work hours. Vulnerable learners are invited to lunchtime sessions, which focus on building their resilience and promote the importance of peer-on-peer support.

Cambridge Regional College has also worked with local and national organisations to supplement the support offered internally, and introduced a dedicated lead to train staff as mental health champions to raise awareness throughout the college.

A mental wellbeing panel was introduced, which includes a range of college staff, who discuss and identify appropriate interventions for students with the greatest need.

The judges said that the online support being offered to students was really powerful – and was reaching learners who would otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

“Good mental health provision isn’t always about making appointment times faster and taking on more staff,” they added. “Cambridge Regional College has shown that there are other methods of supporting students and has made the most of technology to do so.”

Fife College was highly commended in this category.

Employer engagement
North West Regional College

Five years ago, Northern Ireland’s North West Regional College opened a dedicated business support centre (BSC) in response to the region’s economic and employment challenges.

Today, it supports more than 1,300 companies, providing bespoke upskilling and training opportunities, and working with local employers to source funding for innovation and research projects. The centre has a specialist team of 23 staff, who receive regular training and attend conferences, trade missions and events to keep their industry knowledge and skills up to date.

This year, the BSC has trained more than 630 apprentices, upskilled 550 employees to level 2 or above across 325 business and undertaken more than 140 specialist interventions to assist businesses in developing new products, processes and services. The hub now includes specialist centres for food and drink, and product design, as well as a centre dedicated to the design of assisted-living centres.

As a direct result of the BSC’s work, 614 jobs have been created in the region. The college’s revenue from innovation income and skills has rocketed from £109,000 in 2015 to £1.2 million in 2019.

A £7 million rebuild is currently under way at the college’s Springtown campus, a clear commitment to ensure that students receive vocational training in cutting-edge facilities to meet with current industry need.

The judges said that North West Regional College had given staff and students a real chance to engage with employers, while simultaneously responding to the needs of businesses. They added: “Creating a centre that employers gain real value from benefits everyone at the college over and over again.”

Best teaching and learning initiative
Grimsby Institute

At Grimsby Institute, students aren’t just given an insight into TV production – they’re working within it by running Estuary Student TV, an in-house, industry-standard channel.

In a region where social deprivation is high, students from disadvantaged and under-represented communities are placed directly into a real-life work environment, gaining skills and knowledge directly from experts with careers in the industry.

The college invested in hiring a channel manager and building a production office. As soon as the young people step on to set, they are no longer treated as students but as crew members. They’re held against industry expectations and are expected to commit to being flexible, available and willing to travel to cover news and events 24 hours a day.

As a direct result of Estuary Student TV, employer-based projects at the college increased by 50 per cent last year, with many local businesses hiring the team to create promotional videos, cover events and run social media campaigns.

The statistics speak for themselves. Attendance on the course is 94 per cent, with achievement and pass rates both standing at 99 per cent. Student satisfaction is 100 per cent and positive progression was observed in all teaching sessions.

The judges were impressed with the college’s student-directed and student-centred approach. They said: “Grimsby Institute has really committed to ensuring students have real-world skills and the programme leads towards employment – a really important aim given the high levels of disadvantage many students face.”

Contribution to the local community
Cardiff and Vale College

Cardiff and Vale College’s ethos is just as much about looking outside the institution as at what goes on within it. The community it serves is diverse and the college has made it its goal to address the lack of skills in the local population and increase employment opportunities. The college brings together more than 800 parents and children for its Families Learning Together initiative, and offers bespoke courses for parents and children supporting literacy and numeracy skills, taking families on a learning journey together. It has created a central hub for Esol (English for speakers of other languages), called Reach+, which has assessed 3,000 learners and placed 98 per cent of them into provision. It has also partnered with Cancer Awareness to produce Esol health and cancer awareness resources in a bid to ensure that everyone in the local community has the confidence to access healthcare. The college’s junior apprenticeship programme welcomes learners from 20 of Cardiff’s schools to study vocational qualifications and GCSE maths and English. It has also opened two “shared-learning campuses” in deprived areas of the city, which offer career-focused courses. In no small part down to the college’s work, in the past five years, the percentage of Neets (young people not in education, employment or training) in the city has fallen from 4.9 per cent to 1.6 per cent. The judges were blown away by the college’s efforts to transform its community. They said: “Cardiff and Vale has adopted a real strategic approach around family learning and Esol. The reach of its initiatives is incredible, and there’s a great sense of ‘what next?’ It’s always

Outstanding GCSE resits provision
Birkenhead Sixth Form College

When students join the three-year GCSE resits programme at Birkenhead Sixth Form College, they are given no targets and there is no focus on final outcomes. The clear message from staff to students is: concentrate on the process and the outcomes will take care of themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of students resit their maths and English GCSEs every year, often arriving at college with their confidence shot and motivation low. Through encouraging a can-do approach and hardworking ethos, Birkenhead Sixth Form College aims to provide these students with the tools they need to succeed.

Students are given a bespoke curriculum that ensures intervention for their individual deficits. The college offers support including writing, mentoring, skills, wellbeing, engagement and bursary programmes, and assigns each student a personal tutor who offers pastoral care. The constant push to cement effective study habits in the foundation year serves students well as they progress to A levels or BTECs.

The results speak for themselves: 66 per cent of students achieved at least a grade 4 in GCSE maths in 2018-19, triple the national average of 22.3 per cent. In English, 86 per cent of students achieved this standard – two and a half times the national figure.

The judges loved the college’s ethos and approach to GCSE resits. They said: “At Birkenhead Sixth Form College, they don’t just drill students for an exam, they focus on the whole learner and it pays off. Their achievements – given that they are in one of the most deprived areas of the country – are outstanding.”

WorldSkills unsung hero
Joan Scott, The Trafford College Group

Sponsored by

It would be difficult to find someone who believes in the mission of WorldSkills more than Joan Scott. By day, she’s an assistant principal at The Trafford College Group; by night (and weekends, holidays and any other spare time she has), she’s on a mission to make the North West the most productive region in the country when it comes to WorldSkills activity.

Having witnessed the magic of WorldSkills in Abu Dhabi in 2017, Scott is convinced about the transformational impact that skills competitions can have on a young person’s life – inside and outside the workplace.

At The Trafford College Group, Scott encourages and supports staff to use the competitions to enhance teaching, learning and assessment.

She coordinates the skills competition steering group for Greater Manchester Colleges Group which, in turn, delivers an annual series of competitions involving 700 students across 50 competitions spanning 10 different sectors. These events are hosted in 10 colleges and are clearly having an impact: in the past two years, the number of WorldSkills UK registrations from these colleges increased by 130 per cent.

Each year, Scott hosts two national education forums for beauty therapy lecturers. Indeed, Team UK competitors have won gold for beauty therapy at three consecutive EuroSkills and WorldSkills contests.

The judges called Scott the epitome of an unsung hero. They said: “Joan Scott is a grassroots champion who has worked really hard locally to ensure access. She will be invisible to many people but, for those who know how things get done, she is a hero.”

Professional services team of the year
The Bedford College Group

The Bedford College Group has undergone major structural change in the past few years, following the merger of Bedford and Tresham colleges. Behind the scenes, there has been a small team of people working away, often unnoticed but making a huge difference to college life for staff and students.

The building projects team consists of just five people. But between them, they have upgraded several buildings, opened two learning centres and created three new buildings on three different campuses. As a direct result of their work, the reach of the college’s provision has expanded massively and thousands more local people are accessing high-quality resources.

In 2018, the college opened the £5.2 million Buchanan Centre for Advanced Engineering. In 2019, it built the £3.65 million Zoological Education Centre in Shuttleworth. Work is under way on the £10 million redevelopment of the Wellingborough campus, which is due to open this year, serving one of the most disadvantaged areas of England.

The building projects team has worked closely with other departments across the colleges, including marketing, finance, IT and, of course, teaching and learning. It collaborates with the college’s market research manager to ensure that all buildings and projects meet learners’ needs. They also manage all the external suppliers involved in designing, building and fitting out the facilities, while meeting deadlines and, crucially, keeping on budget – no mean feat.

The judges said that the complexity of dealing with a land-based estate should never be underestimated. They said: “The team delivers incredibly innovative work and has played a huge role in ensuring the major merger has gone smoothly.”

Teacher of the year
Helena Good, Edinburgh College

Sponsored by

Graphic design lecturer Helena Good has worked in education for 23 years. In her current role as a graphic design lecturer at Edinburgh College, she shares her passion for creativity and design with students through the college’s NC, HNC and HND graphic design courses.

Good established a programme that partners HND students with a mentor from the graphic design industry to ensure they receive guidance and advice on their studies and future careers. She has had a huge impact on her students, who have won numerous awards in recent years.

However, Good’s impact has been felt far beyond her own college. She is the driving force behind the Daydream Believers programme – described by the judges as “the most important educational initiative in Scotland at the moment”. The pioneering project aims to make the transition from school to college more appealing and seamless for secondary students who are looking to progress to post-16 education. It is delivered in collaboration with student ambassadors and industry partners, and involves a number of high schools across Edinburgh.

In 2019, the organisers behind the project – including Good – also established a bank of online resources designed by industry professionals and educators, and aimed at supporting secondary school pupils through their personal educational journey.

The judges said: “Good is an inspirational lecturer. She is a solid professional doing her job outstandingly. Her work is transformative and makes a huge difference within and outside of Edinburgh College.”

FE leader of the year
Sam Parrett, London South East Colleges

Sponsored by

According to the judges, Sam Parrett “embodies what it is to be a true leader, not just a person at the top of an organisation”.

Appointed principal of Bromley College in 2010, she oversaw a merger with Orpington College the following year. Then, in 2016, at the request of the FE commissioner, she led the country’s first three-way college merger, bringing together Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich Community colleges – the latter at the time struggling under the weight of an Ofsted “inadequate” rating and a significant financial deficit – to form London South East Colleges.

Today, the organisation boasts more than 13,000 students, 1,000 staff and a £60 million turnover. Success rates across every college campus have risen steadily over the past three years. Around 90 per cent of students pass their vocational qualifications, putting the merged college in the top 25 per cent of all colleges in the country. In March 2019, Ofsted inspectors rated London South East Colleges as “good” with outstanding features.

London South East Colleges attracted £18 million of investment in 2018-19, and 97 per cent of students progress into employment, an apprenticeship, or further and higher education. Parrett’s establishment of a multi-academy trust, which includes seven alternative, special and mainstream schools and an apprenticeship provider, has supported strong progression for learners.

The judges said: “Sam Parrett has twisted old ways of being into new ways of doing. She showed immense bravery and stepped forward into situations that no one else wanted to go near. She’s a standout leader, with an incredible amount of energy.”

FE college of the year
The Bedford College Group

In 2017, Bedford College merged with Tresham College – a large institution rated “inadequate” by Ofsted and burdened with a significant deficit. In 2019, Ofsted judged The Bedford College Group – including Tresham – as “good” in all areas. The Education and Skills Funding Agency confirmed the college’s status as “outstanding” for financial health, owing to a £1 million surplus, which is no small achievement given where Tresham was just two years ago. Crucially, recruitment for Tresham exceeded targets by 15 per cent in 2019.

In the latest Department for Education overall institution achievement rates tables for 2017-18, the college came top in the Eastern region, with overall achievement standing at 89 per cent. The group performs above the national average for achievement in GCSEs, English, maths and apprenticeships.

Professional practice is evaluated through learning walks, drop-ins, observations, student feedback and assessment reviews. New staff are given teacher toolkits and are supported by advanced practitioners. The group invests at least 1 per cent of its income on staff development each year, and teaching and assessing staff from the college claimed titles at the Tes FE Awards in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The judges said that The Bedford College Group wasn’t following the herd but was determining its own way forward and serving the needs of its community in the process.

They said: “The Bedford College Group is a huge part of the town and is the college to attend in that area. The merger has been a huge success, and the focus on innovation, research and staff development means that they are constantly improving and moving forward.”

Training provider of the year
Skills Group

For a quarter of a century, Skills Group has been offering full-time courses and apprenticeships across a range of sectors, from care to construction and from engineering to education.

It has invested more than £4 million to create state-of-the-art training facilities, and put a support system of specialist and dedicated staff in place to guide learners and employers through the apprenticeship process.

As a result, Skills Group boasts a success rate of 82.4 per cent compared with a national average of 65.5 per cent. More than 92 per cent of learners and 94 per cent of employers say they would recommend it, and it was rated “outstanding” in its most recent Ofsted inspection.

Skills Group continually evaluates and develops teaching, learning and assessment through stringent classroom observations, data analysis and response to learner and employer feedback. This has led to timeliness scores of more than 80 per cent and apprenticeship attendance of 91.2 per cent.

Learners receive a number of benefits, such as a free breakfast, a “refer a friend” scheme and the opportunity to enter competitions to win prizes. Their successes are celebrated on Skills Group’s website and social media channels through case studies.

The judges were impressed with the way in which the Skills Group places importance on community engagement. “There’s a longevity factor with Skills Group that should be celebrated,” they said. “It paid for phenomenal facilities out of its revenue, and it thinks in detail about teaching and learning, and the curriculum – in particular, how to embed maths and English into vocational subjects.”

Adult and community learning provider of the year
Inspire, Nottinghamshire

When it comes to delivering learning for adults in a community setting, the judges said that Inspire was “ahead of the game”.

Inspire is Nottinghamshire County Council’s spin-off adult and community learning service, which prides itself on offering “responsive, highquality and continuously evolving learning opportunities to 785,800 Nottinghamshire inhabitants”, many of them living in areas of pronounced socioeconomic disadvantage.

Over the past four years, the provider has re-engineered its curriculum to offer a much broader set of learning pathways. Its community and family learning programmes were previously entirely subcontracted out; in 2019-20, 80 per cent of provision was being directly delivered, meaning that more funding went to frontline education. This provision is delivered in libraries across Nottinghamshire, helping to promote better access to these vital community assets.

Programmes funded through the adult education budget offer progression opportunities for 16-19 learners and adults on to traineeships and a range of accredited courses. In 2018-19, 87 per cent of learners progressed from the Access to HE course to university study. In GCSE maths, 56 per cent of students obtained a grade 4 pass or better last summer compared with 22 per cent nationally. Programmes designed for residents not in education, employment or training have grown by 42 per cent over three years.

The judges said: “Inspire offers a real, joined-up community service in which the clients determine and help to shape the offer. The adult and community learning complements the 16-19 provision, and is a great inspiration to others in the sector.”

Sixth-form college of the year
New College Pontefract

New College Pontefract is one of the most successful non-selective sixth-form colleges in the country. According to the judges, it is “doing a truly extraordinary job”.

Since 2014, enrolments have increased by 20 per cent, from 2,100 a year to 2,500. It was one of the first sixth-form colleges to convert to academy status. This allowed it to establish a multi-academy trust containing two new free-school “sibling” colleges: one in Doncaster, which opened in 2017, and one in Bradford, which opened two years later.

The college’s own headline data has continued to improve. In 2018-19, it achieved an A-level performance system grade 2 in both A-level and applied general provision, recording a 100 per cent pass rate in both. The college also achieved its best-ever high-grade rates: 60 per cent at A level and 90 per cent in applied general courses.

But it’s not all about exam results. New College Pontefract places a great deal of emphasis on employability training and skills, progression to higher education and a wide range of extracurricular and supercurricular activities. These include more than 200 trips and events over the course of the academic year, ensuring that students are given a broad educational experience that goes beyond the classroom. 

The judges said: “The college is making a real difference to young people across three communities both in and outside of the classroom. It has a broad intake of students, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is showing others what it means to be a sixth form in modern times.”

Specialist provider of the year
Coleg Elidyr

Carmarthenshire-based Coleg Elidyr won the plaudits of the judges for running a “diverse curriculum that delivers exceptional outcomes”. It caters for young adults with Down’s syndrome, autism and a range of other learning difficulties and disabilities. As the college puts it, it is “committed to the principle that all learners, regardless of ability, have a right to the highest quality of education and training”.

At the heart of its provision is a constant process of self-evaluation in terms of how the college prepares students for their lives after they leave. It holds annual consultations with learners, families, staff, stakeholders and employers to ensure that its quality-improvement planning is robust and sustained. Students’ individual learning programmes are focused on the key areas of citizenship, household skills, self-advocacy, essential skills, digital literacy and independent learning skills.

Coleg Elidyr displays a strong belief in the therapeutic benefits of craft-related activities in helping learners to manage their anxieties and self-regulate. Accordingly, students have the opportunity to try out everything from carpentry to candle making. On-site meaningful work experience opportunities for learners include the college shop, a bed and breakfast and a smallholding. Varied work placements at the likes of the National Botanic Garden for Wales, the Co-op supermarket and Debenhams are also facilitated to give students hands-on experience of the workplace.

The college employs robust processes to measure, monitor, validate and quality-assure learning and life-skills development.

As the judges put it: “The college caters exceptionally well for complex young people, has innovative, creative tutors and not only educates the students but the rest of society.”

Overall FE provider of the year
New College Pontefract

The winners of the five categories for different types of institutions – The Bedford College Group, Skills Group, Inspire, New College Pontefract and Coleg Elidyr – battled it out to claim the flagship award of overall provider.

And it was the sixth-form college in West Yorkshire that came out on top. The judges said that it had been “incredibly adventurous” in sharing skills and expertise with neighbouring schools, and in grasping the initiative by not only converting to academy status but establishing new free schools to meet the needs of the area it serves.

The college has worked hard to disseminate best practice, working with primaries and secondaries across the region through the establishment of a teaching school. A recent literacy project, involving 10 primary schools and three secondaries in the Wakefield area, improved the age-related expectation in reading among disadvantaged children by between 12 and 26 per cent. This reflects the college’s focus on narrowing the gaps of achievement in an area that has suffered from underperformance at key stage 4. These efforts are just as visible within the college, where the overall attendance rate stands at an impressive 93 per cent.

Its strong exam results are supported by an approach to teaching and learning through embedding the principles of metacognition based on research into cognitive developmental psychology.

The judges said: “New College Pontefract is taking on a system leadership role within its sector and is a shining example of what every college should be aiming to achieve.”


Giving FE's finest the recognition they deserve.


Photos from the 2019 Tes FE Awards.


Online awards ceremony to take place Friday 16 October at 8pm


See why the Tes FE Awards are valued by the sector.


If you have an enquiry, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us.


Sign up here to receive the latest news on the Tes FE Awards.