The winners of the Tes FE Awards 2019, held in association with The Association of Colleges Beacon Awards, were announced on Friday 22 March 2019 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.
Below are the winners in each category. Click the name of the winner to view more information.
The winners e-book is available here.
This new category has been introduced to recognise the administrative and professional services teams working behind the scenes at colleges and training providers – so often the unsung heroes of the sector. In Peterborough Regional College’s facilities team, the award has a worthy inaugural winner.
The team supports 9,000 learners and 800 staff across the college’s main 25-acre campus and four other locations. Team members have worked to continually improve environmental performance, resulting in a 25 per cent decrease in gas usage and a 50 per cent fall in water usage, with 100 per cent of waste recycled or supplied to power stations. Despite an increase in buildings and ICT equipment, electricity use has remained constant for seven years. The college’s work has been recognised in the Green Apple Awards for environmental best practice.
Team members place learners – and especially high-needs learners – at the heart of what they do. This year, lift facilities were refurbished to meet the needs of wheelchair users, and the college is registered with Disabled Go, which regularly gives advice on improvements for students with access challenges.
The judges said that the entry highlighted how vital caretakers were to the overall maintenance of an FE college, where the upkeep of buildings was “fundamentally important”. They added: “Sometimes, as in this case, behind-the-scenes teams actually have a big effect on the overall wellbeing and effectiveness of an institution.”
Tes FE Awards Winners
Annette Bruton, Edinburgh College
Annette Bruton has dedicated more than 40-years of her life to public service. As the judges put it: “She is pretty incredible”.Bruton has played a major role in Scottish public life, holding senior posts at government agencies, local authorities and, most recently, as principal and chief executive of Edinburgh College, a job she held for three years until her retirement last August. Under her leadership, the college – one of the largest in Scotland – has turned its finances around and increased its student numbers.After started her career as a geography teacher in Dundee, Bruton worked in roles supporting pupils with SEND, managing children’s’ care services and overseeing Scottish exams reform. She also chairs the East Lothian Poverty Commission, as well as the board of the Scottish Poetry Library.In 2001, Bruton became one of Scotland’s inspectors of education. Four years later, she was named chief inspector at HM Inspectorate of Education, the former Scottish government agency responsible for inspecting standards at schools and colleges, a role she held until 2009. She then moved to at Aberdeen City Council to become its director of education, culture and sport. In her three years there, she oversaw an increase in educational attainment and the introduction of a new cultural strategy. A passionate advocate of lifelong learning, Bruton set an example for her students at Edinburgh College by enrolling on a textiles course herself. As her entry put it: “At her core, Annette is a teacher and she has continued coaching and developing others.”
Belfast Metropolitan College
The judges were particularly impressed by Belfast Metropolitan College’s work with the Northern Ireland Prison Service. This included remodelling a young offenders’ centre, and rebranding it as Hydebank Wood College.This project was overseen by the team at the college’s Centre for Economic Development and Social Inclusion (CEDSI). This is a cross-college initiative that helps deliver skills for marginalised learners, boosting not only their life chances but growing the wider economy too.Through its work with the prisons service, young offenders are able to develop essential skills and participate in courses up to level 3, helping to lower reoffending rates. The judges added that this was a “thoughtful, long-term project” that helped prisoners transition back into the community and integrate back into society upon their release from prison. The team at CEDSI has been highly effective in supporting business development in Northern Ireland. The college’s Assured Skills Programme alone has boosted the regional economy to the tune of £141 million and has stimulated more than 5,000 jobs. The programme typically involves a learner taking part in a bespoke eight to 10-week pre-employment training programme designed by the CEDSI team, designed to prepare them for jobs in sectors including animation, cyber security and data analytics. Staff have helped win multi-million pound contracts from a diverse group of organisations, helping it to realise its mission to “make a fundamental impact on the economic and social success of the city by equipping its people, employers and communities with the education and skills for work”.
Samantha Jones, Bedford College
This category recognises tutors who have made “a major contribution to educational life”. Samantha Jones has not only made a contribution to her students but also to the FE sector as a whole through her FE Research Meet initiative. Jones is a part-time advanced practitioner in Bedford College’s Teacher Education and Scholarship Department. Since she joined, student achievement rates have consistently increased. In addition to her teaching duties, Jones is an FE researcher and recently completed a Master’s degree in learning and teaching from the University of Oxford University, where she won the International Professional Development Award for her dissertation on CPD in FE colleges. Last September she started a PhD at the University of Cambridge exploring topics surrounding updating vocational knowledge. In 2017, Jones held the UK’s first research summit for FE lecturers. Five pieces of research were shared at the first meeting, with 40 teachers in attendance. The second meeting, a year later, featured discussions on 15 pieces of research by 65 tutors. Jones helped other teacher-researchers set up their own research meets, with regional events in Bristol and Greater Manchester. To date, six FE Research Meets across the country are planned for 2019. Jones is also co-convenor of the post-compulsory and lifelong learning special interest group at the British Educational Research Association, and she is convenes the Learning and Skills Research Network’s Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire group. The judges said Samantha’s research work “contributes to the national conversation”, with its impact felt not just in her colleges but disseminated across the sector.
Paul Phillips, Weston College
In his 18 years at
the helm of Weston College, Paul Phillips has directed a dramatic turnaround in
its fortunes. The judges commended Phillips for the proven impact of his
leadership which has been sustained over time.
Turnover at the college has increased from £9 million when he joined in 2001 to
more than £63 million in 2016-17 – making it one of the 10 biggest colleges in
When he moved to the Somerset coastal resort to take up the job, Phillips took
up a room in a bed and breakfast over the road so her could be as close to the
institution as possible.
Last year, the college was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its
inclusive practice for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities
(SEND). The college was also the first to open a specialist autism residential
Under Phillips’ leadership, the college has had a major impact on the seaside
town it serves, including restoring the 1920s Winter Gardens Pavilion and its
ballroom for community use, while building a new Law and Professional Services
Academy. In 2016, the University Centre Weston opened; a year later it was
awarded a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) gold award.
Phillips has also committed to sharing best practice across the sector and has
helped other colleges with everything from strategic planning to recovery plans
and health and safety reviews. In 2017, he was made one of the first National
Leaders in Further Education.
The judges said: “Dr Phillips gets results and has been truly transformative in
Bridgwater & Taunton College
Bridgwater and Taunton College has moved quickly to help develop the skills apprentices will need to pursue a career at one of the country’s biggest construction projects for a generation.Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset will deliver the first two new nuclear reactors built in the UK for over two decades. Construction began last December, and electricity is due to start being generated from the new reactors in 2025. There will eventually be 4,000 workers on site, including 1,200 steel fixers.The college, which is half an hour’s drive from the power station, will train 300 apprentices over a three year period. This is in collaboration with construction company Bylor, a joint venture between British and French firms which is responsible for the main civil engineering contract at the site. There are currently only 600 steel fixers in the UK, who are 56 years old on average, so the college’s training is helping to fill an acute skills gap.With half of the current apprentices having left low-paid positions elsewhere to sign up, the college’s role in the project is not only meeting a national need, but also helping those in the rural communities around Somerset into secure, full-time employment. The judges said the college has demonstrated innovation in its response to the skills needs of the major development on its doorstep. They added: “Bridgwater and Taunton has risen to the challenge investing in new capabilities at the college, along with the development of new national qualifications to support the needs of industry.”
National Star College
The judges described National Star College in Gloucestershire as “an inspiring place” which puts its learners at the centre of everything it does. It providers specialist training and accommodation for students with disabilities and acquired brain injuries from across the country. Through its destination-led focus, the college gives students autonomy, asking them what they want to achieve and then putting the necessary steps in place to help them achieve their goals. The college has enjoyed a high-profile on the national stage, with learners regularly making media appearances and challenging perceptions about people with learning difficulties or disabilities. This has included appearances before the Commons Education Select Committee. The college provides a wide range of personal development and vocational courses , ranging from pre-entry to level 2, for 119 residential and 112 day students. In 2018, the college hosted FestABLE, the first national conference for specialist education , attracting delegates from all over the UK. It is recognised as a national centre of excellence, and partners with local authorities and other colleges to help deliver CPD for teachers who support learners with SEND. The college was rated outstanding by Ofsted in January 2018, when inspectors said senior leaders and managers had “successfully sustained the culture of high standards” while teachers, learning support assistants and other staff “prepare students for adult life very effectively and, consequently, the quality of their lives improves”. The judges said: “They are swimming against the tide by sticking to what they do best - and doing it better than the rest.”
This award recognises the adult and community learning provider that provides “a high-quality curriculum with excellent student outcomes, reflected in strong recruitment and success rates”. Redbridge Institute has over 4,000 students across 47 community settings in one of the most diverse boroughs in East London. Two-thirds of learners are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background; libraries across the borough have increased membership from BAME groups thanks in no small part to the work of the institute. The proportion of learners gaining qualifications has remained consistently very high (over 91 per cent) for the last three years. The student body is inclusive too: a quarter of learners have a learning difficulty or disability, and three out of five are studying at pre-entry level. Thanks to a stong system of learning support, the achievement rate for learners with a learning difficulty or disability is 91.5 per cent. The provider has embedded self-reflection into teachers’ CPD, using as a starting point the professional standards set by the Education and Training Foundation. The institute’s submission notes that staff are now “fully involved in their own professional development” which has created a culture in which tutors are “encouraged and motivated to innovate and try out new ways of teaching which are right for their learner”. The judges described Redbridge Institute as a “great place for adults to learn. “Learners value their open and welcoming atmosphere which encourages a mix of different groups of people to work together,” they added.
Skills Training UK
This award celebrates high-quality teaching and learning, learner achievement and business performance. This year’s training provider of the year has not only met all of those criteria, but judges felt it was an exemplar of how to be successful as an “employer-responsive. individual-focussed, innovative” training provider.More than four in five learners who joined the provider did not have a grade 4/C in English and/or maths when they started, and more than half come from deprived backgrounds. Despite this, to date, almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of 16- to 24-year-old learners at this provider have progressed to positive destinations, compared to the national average progression rate of 48 per cent.This provider was commended by the judges for embracing the changing apprenticeships landscape –82 per cent of its apprenticeship clients are levy-payers.Skills Training UK has created a programme called Mentor-Me for to support young people who are facing challenging personal circumstances, or who are struggling with their mental health. All tutors are equipped with mental health first aid training to help spot the signs of those who are struggling and know what steps to take to support them. One-to-one mentoring sessions also help to boost the confidence of trainees. Judges said this is a provider which has received “fantastic feedback from employers, apprentices and learners, and which is offering a great range of apprenticeships to a large number of learners from deprived areas.” They added: “They have had great results and growth during a difficult period for all providers, and they have embraced the apprenticeship levy and new standards.”
The remarkable turnaround which saw Bridgend College transformed from one of the worst-performing colleges in the country to one of the best made it a clear winner. Bridgend College tops league tables in Wales for qualification completion rates. In the most recent statistics, these stood above 90 per cent across all qualifications. Some of the wards in the area the college serves are among the most economically deprived in the country. The college is rooted in its community, supporting other education providers and businesses across the region. This includes work with a nearby school which led to a 13 per increase in the number of learners gaining A to C grades at A level. Estyn, the Welsh education and training inspectorate, awarded the college a rare “double excellent” grade at its most recent inspection. The college was praised for the “very good progress” learners make, often from low starting points. Inspectors also praised the culture in the college of supporting staff to “innovate and take risks” as well as helping to build their confidence in order to meet future challenges. The college’s own latest staff survey showed that 98 per cent of staff are happy to work there. The judges were impressed by the way in which the college had responded to local need and the difference that it has made to the well-being of its students. They also praised the work dedicated to improving its fortunes under the able leadership of the governing body, principal and staff.
Huddersfield New College
The judges were in agreement that Huddersfield New College achieves “amazing results” and raises the aspirations of its students.The area the college serves is in the bottom third of local authorities in terms of deprivation and a quarter of students at the college receive a means-tested bursary.The college has excellent results at A level, with a 100 per cent pass rate for both A-level and vocational courses, despite the college not academically selecting its students at 16. Students can choose to study either A levels, BTECs or a combination of the two – with 83 per cent of learners following some form of vocational course at levels 1-3. The BTEC pass rate at the college is 100 per cent.The college is number one in the National Centre for Diversity’s 2019 Top 100 index and was commended by Ofsted for its approach, with inspectors saying “learners celebrate and welcome their differences and feel extremely comfortable at college”. The college has partnered with neighbouring Premier League football club Huddersfield Town as its official equality partner.Every department bat the college builds bespoke industry links to ensure that students have access to employer experiences, including with the NHS, IT companies and accountancy firms.The college also shares best practice at a local and national level, including supporting other sixth-form colleges graded “requires improvement” or “inadequate” with their journeys of improvement. The judges said Huddersfield New College serves a community where “things are not made easy for them,” but this does not stop students from excelling.
“Fun” isn’t a word that Ofsted uses lightly. But when the inspectorate published its report on the Redbridge Institute last May, there was no other word that would do. As the glowing report, which found the provider “outstanding” in all areas and identified no areas for improvement, put it: “Teachers have extremely high expectations of their learners, their enthusiasm to pass on their knowledge to learners is infectious and lessons are fun." Redbridge is deeply embedded in its community - and encourages its learners to be too, with 15 per cent of them engaging in voluntary work. Redbridge Institute works across 47 different settings in the borough, bringing educational opportunities to those who might otherwise miss out. Teachers are encouraged to collaborate on improving their techniques, with learners, tutors, managers and governors taking part in a Great Teaching and Learning Conference. This process also involves learners in the discussion; students’ ideas about developing an employability hub and “learner of the month awards” were recently initiated. Another example of the work this provider does for its local community is the development of the “chill with your child” programme delivered at primary schools, giving parents the skills to help support their child’s mental wellbeing. The judges were unanimous in their decision to award overall provider of the year to Redbridge Institute – the first time this accolade has gone to an adult and community learning provider. As the judges put it: “Redbridge Institute has proved you can put the fun back into learning.”
Beacon Awards Winners
Birkenhead Sixth Form College
Birkenhead Sixth Form
College has an ethos based around social mobility. As the college puts it in
its submission, it aims to give its students “access to opportunities and to a
life that is wholly different from the one that they grew up in”. The college
takes a radical approach, telling students from the outset that “there’s no
such thing as talent and that success is a product of hard work”.
Despite its intake of students starting at college with an average GCSE points
score of 5.4 – below the sixth-form college average of 6.2 – one in eight
learners go on to higher education, with 86 per cent of those being the first
in their families to do so.
The college looks particularly at raising attainment for white working-class
students but does so through a whole-college
approach, rather than targeting small groups of disadvantaged students.
The college identified the low aspirations of white working class girls as a
priority issue to tackle, and worked with mentoring charity Girls Network to
link girls with inspiring role models.
When it realised that its white, working class, male students needed similar
support, Birkenhead approached the Behavioural Insights Team and University
College London. It is now the only sixth-form college involved in their
research around using role models to improve the prospects of white working
The assessors noted the college’s “strategic approach to understanding the
disadvantages and needs of students, and then providing them with a tailored
experience to enable and empower learners to change the direction of their lives”.
National Star College
National Star College
works towards a vision of “a world in which people with disabilities are able
to realise their potential as equal and active citizens in control of their
lives”. Through its effective international exchange partnerships, across 17
countries, the college is playing its role in making this vision a reality.
It delivers specialist teaching programmes in Antigua and Belgium, and exchange
placements for teachers at special education schools in Kenya, Nigeria and
Lebanon. The college has also hosted professional development visits and
placements for teachers and therapists from Sweden, Germany, Greece, Finland,
South Korea and Brazil over the past four years.
This work also has an impact on learners in the UK: some of them were able to
travel abroad for the first time in their lives.
One project involves a partnership with a vocational training college in
Thessaloniki, Greece that has been running since 2014. This has provided
opportunities for 40 Greek learners to travel to the UK on two-week placements
to develop employability skills working in National Star’s social enterprises,
which include a bistro and a commercial print company. In addition, some 25
Greek teachers per year shadow National Star’s job mentors to develop their
skills to support their vocational work in Greece.
The assessors said: “Staff, students and partner colleges gain immensely from
the international experience and exemplify the value of international work to
enhance the curriculum and impact of further education with all those
North West Regional College
By creating a dedicated careers academy, North West Regional College in Northern Ireland is helping to tackle high levels of unemployment in the wider community by offering “work-ready” courses. Assessors acknowledged that the college operates in “a very challenging area, facing the remnants of sectarianism and extreme levels of deprivation”. Yet it has “uniquely and successfully” embedded careers education into every aspect of the curriculum, they added. The college’s careers programme focusses on employability, enterprise and enrichment. One of its initiatives is a jobs club. Vacancies in the region are advertised to learners and careers academy staff assist students through the application process. The scheme has a 70 per cent success rate of getting learners into employment. Its careers strategy extends into the community and is used as a recruitment tool. The college holds a roadshow, taking the college’s offering to central locations to promote further education as a route into employment. North West Regional College runs a packed calendar of events including weeks dedicated to exploring the topics of resilience, enterprise and mental health week. Staff at the careers academy have also set up a “Talk, Don’t Walk” initiative that has helped to improve retention. The assessors said they were impressed with the “culture and commitment that is transforming learners’ prospects and lives, and supporting the economy of the region itself through innovative bespoke career workshops for different sectors. “Careers education is in every part of the curriculum,” they added.
City of Glasgow College
The Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) shipping company operates the largest fleet of car and passenger ferries in the UK, serving Scotland’s island communities. It has partnered with City of Glasgow College to train up the next generation of shipfarers. The Beacon assessors considered this as an “outstanding project”.City of Glasgow College’s modern apprenticeship programme offers meaningful employment to young people in remote island communities as well as the deprived areas of inner-city Glasgow. The college is the only training provider in Scotland to provide all the internationally mandated safety standards. But it prides itself on going further than offering the minimum training required: apprentices are equipped with a range of academic and professional qualifications to start them on a career route to more senior roles as their skills and experience develop. Students go through a rigorous application and selection process for the maritime apprenticeship, which means that a pipeline of new talent has been established to secure CalMac’s future plans to connect more remote island communities to the Scottish mainland. The apprenticeship is subject to regular review to ensure it continues to meet the current and future needs of the employer. The assessors said the programme “clearly demonstrates how the college uses their experience of working with one employer to develop a highly responsive and innovative apprenticeship scheme, which in turn positively influenced the shipping provision for the whole sector”. This project had a significant and massive impact on the economy of the Western Isles, the employer concerned and the life chances of their learners,” they added.
Wiltshare College and University Centre
The Beacon assessors said Wiltshire College and University Centre had demonstrated excellence in delivering farm-based practical skills and theoretical knowledge to learners through immersion in its working 1,600-acre farm. Commercial staff support teachers in making the curriculum content relevant for the world of work, and a degree of “ownership” is created for learners through the real-life context. This has created learners who are highly sought after by employers due to their technical skills and work readiness. Some 96 per cent of learners who attend courses linked to the farm, based at the college’s Lackham campus, move into employment. Students are encouraged to engage with employers and the community. One example of this is during the college’s lambing season “open weekends”. The agricultural students help to lamb more than 1,000 ewes - while also explaining the process to 10,000 visiting members of the public. Students also undertake dairy duties on the farm throughout their studies. Learners carry out the harvesting, maize silaging, ploughing and grass cutting for the farm using the college’s own machinery. This includes state-of-the-art, GPS-automated tractors to ensure students are aware of emerging agri-tech and its role in modern farming methods. The assessors were impressed by the “exceptional and innovative approach to practical teaching, learning and assessment which results in excellent progression and achievement data.” They added: “The implementation of investigative projects develops the knowledge and skills of both the students and staff, while providing a positive impact on productivity.”
Beacon assessors felt that Bolton College’s initiative use of chatbot
technology was “potentially a game changer for the whole of the FE sector”.
Ada is described as the college’s very own answer to Amazon’s Alexa: a digital
assistant providing personalised and contextualised one-to-one support for
every student on the campus. Powered by artificial intelligence, Ada functions
as a virtual support teacher on behalf of teachers and support teams across the
The service has so far responded successfully to more than 70,000 questions
from learners. It has allowed them to garner information, advice and guidance
to support their studies, even out of office hours.
Members of Bolton College’s information learning technology team championed the
use of this technology, as a growing volume of data led them to conclude that a service which enabled
students to garner information in a more intuitive and accessible manner was
essential. The AI platform has been taught to support everything from the
delivery of GCSE maths and hairdressing courses to the college’s employability
curriculum. The team behind the programme said these functions will continue to
expand and grow.
Bolton College’s chatbot service is already available to all learners at the
college. This year, the college will launch iOS and Android apps for the
chatbot service. The college is also publishing an Amazon Alexa app which will
enable learners to access college services via their smart speakers.
The assessors said that “the long-term benefits for the quality of the learner
experience and potential organisational efficiencies were highly impressive”.
Activate Learning college group is taking the lead on helping high-needs learners to succeed – both during their time in further education and long after they have left.High needs learner retention rates at the college for the 2017-18 academic year stood at an impressive 97.6 per cent, up 3.5 percentage points from the previous year. It works with high-needs, home-educated children from age 14 to help prepare them for the transition to college, which can be an overwhelming experience for many.Small group classroom visits take place throughout the year for new learners and those moving on to the next tier. Individual plans are prepared for learners who do not yet feel ready to access a large college campus.All high needs learners take up work placements. The college group has a sustained record of getting students with learning difficulties and disabilities into work by focussing on “job carving” – redesigning an existing job around the needs of an individual employee – and working with more than 200 employers to provide opportunities for learners.These supported-employment initiatives enable learners to make their own choices, to participate in society and make a positive contribution.The Beacon assessors said the college’s “excellent collaborative approach evidences clear partnership working with the local authority and other community organisations”. They added:“There are an exceptional range of opportunities which broaden learners’ opportunities and improve their life chances. We were impressed by the exceptional learner voice systems to solve challenges through learning.”
The welfare and pastoral support service at Weston College has helped learners who have accessed it to continue with their studies in times of crisis. An impressive 92 per cent of those who used the service said it had helped them to stay on at college and to achieve. College leaders have invested in training to help staff support learners who are struggling with their mental health. This has included implementing enhanced procedures for supporting students with suicidal thoughts. Under a bespoke “body and mind” initiative, staff from pastoral support, sport and human resources teams have been brought together to help colleagues and students be more physically active. This includes a six-week health and fitness programmes for students with lower levels of physical activity, as well as on courses on which there are high-levels of engagement with welfare services. Another scheme, called “Us Girls”, aims to increase the number of 16- to 25-year-old women from deprived areas taking part in regular sport or physical activity. Weston is the only UK college to be awarded a place on the Young Minds “Amplified Trailblazer” programme of 13 organisations across the country. Assessors noted that Weston is a college where “the provision in relation to mental health has wide applicability, with exceptional support for staff who are passionate and supportive of students”. They added that Weston is a college with “a strategic commitment to student wellbeing; a significant resource investment; and an innovative differentiated personal tutorial programme where the scale of the programme is substantial, with strong holistic provision embedded in the college’s work.”