Tes FE Awards 2021 Winners

The winners of the Tes FE Awards 2021 were announced on Friday 28 May 2021 at our virtual awards ceremony. Below are the winners in each category.

The winners e-book is avaliable here

Watch the winners revealed at our glittering online ceremony below!

Lifetime achievement 
Tim Jackson

When Tim Jackson joined Sparsholt College in 1986, it would have been hard to imagine the impact he would go on to have on the FE provider. When he retired last summer, he had dedicated 34 years of his life to the college, 22 of them as principal. When nominating Jackson, his staff said they were “exceptionally proud” of their outgoing leader and keen to ensure that he left knowing that his contribution had been recognised.

Jackson was an applied biologist at the Ministry of Agriculture before becoming an FE teacher. He worked his way up from course tutor to head of faculty to vice-principal, before becoming principal of Sparsholt in 1998.

Under his leadership, the college was consistently rated “outstanding” or “good” by Ofsted, and earned University Centre status. In 2007, he oversaw the merger with Andover College. His vision ensured that the college thrived in a tight financial climate. Student numbers doubled and the campus expanded, with state-of-the-art facilities including the Aquatic Research and Conservation Centre, the Salmonid Rearing and Trials Centre and the Motor Vehicle Engineering Centre.

Away from the college, Jackson has served as chair of the Landex Quality Development Committee, has been a member the independent advisory panel for the Defence College of Logistics, Policing and Administration, and was the director of a company supporting ex-offenders and the longterm unemployed into work. Today, he is a governor at Highbury College, an NHS responder and an adviser to the FE commissioner’s office.

Colleagues say his success is founded on his value system, which consists of a strong work ethic, a keen sense of duty, a positive approach and respect for his fellow human beings.

Lead judge David Russell said Jackson was “a greatly respected leader, who exemplifies excellence and achievement in FE, working successfully over a long career at the top level to transform the lives of thousands”.

Apprenticeship programme of the year
Gower College Swansea

When international employer Tata Steel faced a shortage in science skills, Gower College Swansea solved the problem. The college not only developed a level 3 apprenticeship in laboratory and industrial science but went one step further, developing a level 4 higher apprenticeship in life-science industries.

The college worked hard to secure further progression for the pathway and reached an agreement with Swansea University to allow students to go on to the second year of their chemistry undergraduate degree programme – the first chemistry pathway of its kind in the UK. Today, Tata Steel and other major employers, such as Huntsman Corporation and Vale Europe, all benefit from the programme.

Gower College has had immense success in promoting women in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths), too. As well as assigning key members of college staff to support disadvantaged female apprentices, the development of a female Stem apprenticeship ambassador programme sees apprentices visit local schools to dispel the notion that the sector is beyond girls’ reach. Two of the female higher apprentices are themselves awardwinning: Sally Hughes won Welsh National Apprentice of the Year and Briony Morgan was overall UK Tata Steel Higher Apprentice of the Year.

Lead judge Ian Pretty said: “Gower College Swansea has shown an innovative and employer-centric approach to delivering the needs of a major employer in South Wales around laboratory and industrial science.

“Working to understand the needs of the employer and engaging with Swansea University, it offers a truly joined-up further and higher education pathway for young people. Significantly, the college has also been successful in getting female apprentices, many from deprived areas, into an industry typically dominated by men.”

Best teaching and learning initiative
Ayrshire College

In the town of Cumnock, in Ayrshire, eight young people took their own lives within a six-month period. Many of them were students of, or had connections to, Ayrshire College.

Determined to tackle the rising levels of mental ill health in the community, Ayrshire College started a campaign called Mental Health United, with the aim of raising awareness of mental health, particularly the benefits that physical activity can have on wellbeing.

In partnership with the Kris Boyd Charity, the college used sport and physical activity to engage the community with its work around mental health and encourage those who were emotionally vulnerable to seek help.

Through Mental Health United, the community can access a range of clubs, including an inclusive dance group, a care-experienced club, para football, a weight-loss programme for school-aged children in conjunction with the NHS, an older adult fitness group, and a boys’ and girls’ football school. All activities are free and kit is supplied.

As well as running the clubs, the college released a mental health anthem as a charity single and held a charity walk between its different campuses. All efforts were documented on Twitter, via #PassingPositivity.

Helena Good was lead judge in this category. She said: “Mental Health United was an engaging initiative that used sport and physical activity as a ‘hook’ to engage with the community in a creative and innovative way. This student-led project not only delivered a real-life groundbreaking initiative but made a difference to the college and the wider community.

Contribution to the local community
London South East Colleges

Keeping track of the social initiatives introduced by London South East Colleges (LSEC) during the past 12 months is no easy feat.

As the first further education provider to embed the generation and measurement of social value in its core function, the college group provided an astonishing £20 million in social value to its local communities in 2019-20.

From FE Foodbank Friday, through which the group raised more than £46,000 for local food banks and collected in excess of 19,000 items, to designing an NHS workforce development programme to support the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in partnership with the local NHS Trust – not to mention meeting with 60 employers during lockdown to ensure that the curriculum offered across the college met the skills needs of the local community – London South East Colleges has gone above and beyond.

The community approach is deeply embedded, with every member of staff and every student involved in the work, and social action objectives included in performance management targets for staff.

Lead judge Fiona Aldridge said: “This year’s shortlist for the contribution to the local community award was outstanding, and London South East Colleges was particularly inspirational – from its work to support the vaccination programme to its role in launching and leading a national food bank campaign, #FEFoodbankFriday.

“The judges were particularly impressed with how the group sought to embed social value in its core function as an education provider as well as by the significant impact it has had, both in its local community and more broadly across the FE sector."

Employer engagement 
The Manchester College

The Manchester College couldn’t be clearer about its priority for students: “careers not courses”. And to deliver on this ambition, it works hand in hand with employers across the region.

As well as an Industry Excellence Academy, which provides for students to gain unrivalled access to industry-standard learning and training across nine sectors, the college developed an Industry Excellence Partnership, which invites employers to take an active role in shaping the curriculum.

The college has also invested more than £1 million in establishing a bespoke employability and partnerships team that allows staff to work alongside employers to enhance student learning and work readiness.

When the pandemic prompted employers to shift to home-based working, The Manchester College didn’t let circumstances prevent its students from obtaining work-based experience, liaising closely with employers to provide online placements, guest lectures and live briefs.

Impressively, the college is currently on target to deliver 100 per cent of virtual placements to all its students. It is outstanding at forging and developing relationships with employers – and its students are reaping the rewards.

Lead judge Jennifer Coupland said: “The entry stood out for the range of employers it has engaged, its commitment to meeting employer needs – including taking the time to understand what’s needed, and adapt its apprenticeships and courses accordingly – and the creativity and energy the college showed in adapting its offer to employers.

“It continued to add value throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.”

FE leader of the year
Stuart Rimmer, East Coast College    

Like all further education leaders, Stuart Rimmer has had a busy year. Leading a college group through a pandemic is no easy feat but, in a survey at the East Coast Colleges Group, 96 per cent of staff said the college was well led during the Covid lockdowns.

An external health and safety inspection also commended the response the college had made as a model for other FE providers.

Under Rimmer’s leadership, the merger of Great Yarmouth FE College with Lowestoft FE College and Lowestoft Sixth Form College to create East Coast College was hugely successful: in 2020, Ofsted graded the group as “good”; before this, Lowestoft College had not been rated “good” by Ofsted for more than 30 years. Rimmer also secured major funding for an energy skills centre, a civil centre and a wind centre.

Rimmer has had a huge impact on the wider FE sector, too – especially on student and staff mental health. He chaired the Association of Colleges’ mental health and wellbeing policy group, which published a major report into student mental health this year, and he personally published a research report for the Further Education Leadership Trust, focusing specifically on staff mental health and ensuring the publication of much-needed research on mental health in FE.

Lead judge Jim Metcalfe said: “Stuart’s is a story of transformational leadership, high performance, and personal honesty and approachability. His achievement and integrity shone through in the awards entry and the extensive supporting testimonies from his colleagues.”

Outstanding GCSE resists provision
Buxton & Leek College

Taking part in a Crystal Maze-style challenge or an escape room would commonly be associated with rainy weekends, stag dos or workplace bonding, but Buxton and Leek College has employed such environments to engage reluctant learners with GCSE English and maths resits.

A high proportion of new students join the college without a grade 4 in English and/or maths. Across the college, every staff member is held responsible for grade improvements, from the senior leadership team to vocational tutors and, of course, the maths and English lecturers. Maths and English GCSE resits are not considered an add-on but an integral element of the college’s holistic curriculum.

Provision is individualised: in every lesson, students are given time and support to work on areas needing improvement, the learning schedule is adapted to focus on the areas students need to work on and, as a result, students take ownership of their learning.

Beyond lesson time, students participate in booster sessions, revision classes, holiday revision and one-on-one slots with tutors.

When away from the students, delivery staff are deeply engaged with breaking new ground in maths and English pedagogy, and are working with WorldSkills’ Centre of Excellence to test innovative new teaching methods.

Lead judge Jeff Greenidge said: “The ethos of this submission was very much one that encourages a growth mindset in learners, with the individualised learning contextualised within innovative environments, such as Crystal Maze and escape rooms.

“What a wonderful way to engage and enthuse learners.”

Outstanding use of technology in delivering remote teaching and learning
West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI

When teaching and learning was forced online because of the pandemic, staff at West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI were not fazed. They had already been delivering remote education to students in the most rural communities in Scotland through their virtual school (VS) model.

Until a few years ago, older students in remote parts of Scotland had a limited choice of curriculum, having to travel lengthy distances to access certain courses. But the VS has changed that and, today, it delivers 21 qualifications to more than 350 students based in the Highlands.

Developed with the local authority, the model’s focus was firmly on providing an accessible curriculum in remote areas – and now students can access apprenticeship and remote work placements through VS, too.

The impact extends beyond college students, with small rural schools and home-educated children now accessing a greater choice of qualifications, as well as being a great option for pupils dealing with issues that affect their schooling, such as illness and bullying.

Lead judge Bob Harrison said: “This year, our usual category, outstanding use of technology for teaching learning and assessment, was tweaked to take account of Covid.

“West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI’s VS model is a perfect example of collaboration and cooperation between FE providers in the Scottish Highlands, using technology to engage and empower learners remotely.”

Professional services team of the year
Dundee & Angus College

In early 2020, Dundee and Angus College was hit by a devastating cyberattack, which wiped out 95 per cent of its services and destroyed the work of students and staff. The rapid and intelligent reaction of the college’s quality team was absolutely central to recovery.

First, the team contacted awarding bodies and established a regular and supportive dialogue. It then worked with curriculum teams across the college to quantify the extent of the missing and unmarked candidate work, and to create viable solutions.

Where lost work could not be replicated, the quality team developed innovative solutions and secured Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) endorsement for their plans to provide learners with results based on holistic professional judgements.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown raised further challenges, not just for Dundee and Angus College but for every college across Scotland. The quality team rose to the occasion and developed a model, with approval from the SQA, for circumstance assessment and certification to be deployed across the country. The model was drafted in days, and allowed colleges to employ a holistic approach to assess student performance and outcomes.

Lead judge Marie-Thérèse McGivern said: “The quality team at Dundee and Angus College navigated two major challenges in the past year – a cyberattack, which affected every part of the college, and then Covid.

“It placed the future of its students at the heart of its solutions, and ensured their progression and success. In doing so, it created tools for all Scottish colleges to use.”

Support for learners
Cardiff and Vale College

It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has brought about a mental health crisis. Knowing this, Cardiff and Vale College pulled out all the stops to protect and look after their learners’ wellbeing.

In autumn 2019, the college’s wellbeing and safeguarding coordinators contacted organisations in the Cardiff area and set up monthly contextualised safeguarding meetings. Information gathered at these meetings was combined with reports about any tensions in the local area (in conjunction with the local police community cohesion team), eSafe digital monitoring reports, safeguarding meetings with the estates team and referrals from staff and learners to create an excellent understanding of current issues.

With a strong strategy already in place, the college was quick to spring into action from the very start of lockdown. While the college buildings were closed, safeguarding hubs were set up on two campuses to provide essential check-in with learners who were unsafe in their homes.

The college partnered with Here We Flo to ensure learners were still provided with free sanitary products during lockdown, delivered straight to their homes. Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence training was also provided to all staff so they could spot the signs and provide any necessary support.

Lead judge Vicky Duckworth said: “The submissions were outstanding, and I was very impressed and moved by such dedication to supporting learners in and out of the classroom.

“Cardiff and Vale College showed a real commitment to supporting learners and listening to the voices of their learners and their community.

Teacher of the year
Anthony Gascoigne, North Hertfordshire College

What makes Anthony Gascoigne such a special teacher is his commitment to his students, to his local community and to his own continuing professional development.

In his role as catering and hospitality tutor at North Hertfordshire College, Gascoigne combines his knowledge of industry with his local and national contacts to inspire students to expand their own horizons. As a result, many of his students have gone on to compete in national competitions and now work in awardwinning restaurants.

During lockdown, Gascoigne collaborated with the local community allotment, encouraging students to explore food provenance, and grow and cook food at home.

In terms of his own development – and the development of the teachers around him – Gascoigne always goes the extra mile. In 2019-20, he became professional development lead and supported 15 members of staff from across the organisation to enhance employer engagement in the curriculum. He is also currently undertaking Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status, as well as participating in the college’s internal Stars scheme for leadership development.

Lead judge Cindy Rampersaud said: “This category included many strong entries and picking a winner was not easy. But one person did stand out for his connections to industry, bringing those connections into the college to benefit students and creating aspirational pathways and placements for students into the world of work. Anthony also showed great innovation in the use of digital technology during Covid, including setting up a community allotment project, and continually focusing on his own CPD and peer working. A true inspiration and deserving winner.”

Charlotte Perchard, of Big Creative Academy, was also highly commended in this category for her work on diversity.

WorldSkills hero
Hospitality and Catering Team, South Eastern Regional College

When looking at how the hospitality and catering team at South Eastern Regional College (SERC) has harnessed the power of WorldSkills to inspire students, the numbers speak for themselves.

Almost 400 students have competed in college, regional and international competitions in the past three academic years – and six of them were announced as finalists for 2019 WorldSkills UK Live. It was the first time SERC had entered the patisserie and confectionery competition, and one student, Katie Graham, won a bronze medal. In culinary skills, second year student Danny Bunphaung was highly commended. Both students were asked to train for the UK Squad.

These results haven’t come easily, and the team at SERC has gone above and beyond in supporting students. Staff invited local and top chefs to give masterclasses, and held intercampus competitions on college open days to help students gain confidence by competing in front of large crowds.

They also introduced an outside catering and food demonstration initiative to build on time management and communication skills while working in a stressful, tiring environment.

The pandemic did not slow them down: students provided 1,250 dinners from two campuses for the local community during Covid.

The team members are: Ruth Doherty, Sheena Hunt, Brian Magill, Tom McCluney, Paul Monaghan, Ian Thompson and Thomas Turley, led by deputy head Paul Mercer.

Lead judge Ben Blackledge said: “Congratulations to the team at SERC on this brilliant recognition of how they are using our competition-based training programme to drive quality, and provide all students with the opportunity to develop and be celebrated for their skills.”

Adult and community learning provider of the year
Norfolk County Council Adult Learning

Prior to Covid, 98 per cent of Norfolk County Council’s adult education provision was delivered in 200 community venues across the region.

But, by April 2020, everything had changed. The delivery of adult education moved 100 per cent online yet, against a national decline in adult participation in qualification courses, the council actually increased the number of students.

Staff were quick to mobilise when Covid hit, and offered a personalised service to keep in touch with learners over the phone, via email and by post. The Independent Living Skills team, for example, kept all 145 learners with learning disabilities on its programme through Zoom sessions and an interactive workbook, combined with individual weekly phone calls from a tutor.

By the end of May that year, a redesigned community programme – with 200 new courses – was in place, tackling loneliness and connecting learners to each other and their community. An online wellbeing programme had almost 100 per cent achievement and learner satisfaction. And more than 3,000 learners attended the county’s Creation in Isolation courses.

Lead judge Sue Pember said: “Norfolk County Council is a worthy winner for its amazing ability to do what’s right for its community. In normal circumstances, the Norfolk adult education service would be delivering approximately 10,000 adult learner enrolments per year.

“It offers a wide range of programmes, including foundation qualifications – such as English, maths, digital skills and English for speakers of other languages – vocational qualifications and apprenticeships, and access to higher education from entry level to level 5. It also complements this vocational provision with a broad community learning provision, including independent living skills, lip reading, creative arts and modern languages.”

FE college of the year
London South East Colleges

London South East Colleges (LSEC) ticked every box for the judges in terms of what makes an awardwinning further education college. Not only has the group had a strong impact on its local community – generating £20 million of social value in 2019-20 – it also delivered 18,000 qualifications during the year, with classroom achievement rates at 86 per cent.

During lockdown, any students struggling to engage with online learning were contacted daily, and more than 200 laptops and dongles were given to students to support them in their studies. Students were also encouraged to attend biweekly Come & Engage wellbeing chats on Zoom. And the college bucked the national trend, with outcomes at 86 per cent.

The college has actively engaged 143 employers via a new membership model, in addition to 1,000 other employers supporting work experience and apprenticeships. The staff’s commitment to employer engagement has meant that almost 230 students have undertaken virtual work placements since March 2020.

The judges were particularly impressed with LSEC’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, which has resulted in the launch of a 10-year grants programme that funds staff and students to set up projects tackling issues in this area.

Lead judge David Hughes said: “LSEC is a high-quality college that really stepped up in the pandemic, showing not only agility in meeting learner needs through uncertain times but also supporting wider community and labour market challenges.

“The impact it has had locally is impressive. Through schemes such as its grant funds for inclusion projects and FE Foodbank Friday, it has helped support communities all over the country.

Training provider of the year

For more than 30 years, ELATT has supported thousands of marginalised young people – including those with health issues, disabilities and mental health needs, migrants and refugees – with skills development and community programmes. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, last year was no different.

All training moved online, with live tutor-led classes being one part of a wider remote education strategy. The provider ensured that no learner was left behind, and provided printed packs to Esol (English for speakers of other languages) learners, facilitated learning over WhatsApp where necessary, and provided devices and data to all those in need.

The students continued to achieve exceptional success rates above national averages, with the provider achieving 96.8 per cent student retention and a 93.7 per cent pass rate.

The contribution that ELATT makes to its local community impressed the judges, too. Its Welcome to Tower Hamlets project creates a learning community involving Esol learners, and sees a range of activities embedded in the area, including skills-sharing workshops, community lunches and volunteering. The provider also collaborated with Citizen UK in campaigning for the fairer treatment of black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities by the police.

Lead judge Jane Hickie said: “ELATT has excelled during the pandemic by further extending its reach into communities in London with its mix of full- and part-time or evening classes, which are delivered online or in small classes.

“ELATT has an almost unrivalled reputation for an inclusive approach to learning and its focus on employment goals has never been more needed."

Sixth-form college of the year
Rochdale Sixth Form College 

For 10 years, Rochdale Sixth Form College has provided life-changing opportunities for students from a range of backgrounds – and this year, as its staff and students dealt with the challenges of the pandemic, the college took extraordinary measures to push its impact even further.

On 23 March, as England entered lockdown, Rochdale Sixth Form became a virtual college, with a business-as-usual approach to education and mental wellbeing.

The teaching and learning strategy incorporated Microsoft Teams – with live lessons matched exactly to students’ previous timetables – and support materials on the college’s virtual learning environment, videos on ClickView and physical study packs posted to all students.

The dedication of the staff was reflected in 93.2 per cent online student attendance and a two-year retention rate of 95.5 per cent.

The sixth-form college also worked collaboratively with neighbouring FE college Hopwood Hall to support the wellbeing and education of Year 11 students who were due to join the colleges in September 2020.

Together, the colleges provided materials to support transition and created the “Rochdale offer”, which guaranteed a place at one of the colleges for all Year 11 leavers.

Lead judge Bill Watkin said: “Rochdale Sixth Form College has demonstrated, this year, the power of collaboration and the effect of a relentless focus on standards.

“It has worked with schools and colleges across the Rochdale community to raise standards, and support young people and their families, showing true system leadership and system partnership.”

Specialist provider of the year
Derwen College 

Derwen College’s mission is to create a world without barriers for people with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

When the pandemic hit, the college didn’t just survive: it thrived. Staff across curriculum, care and support came together with parents, carers, supporters and industry partners to ensure work, independence skills, health, fitness, sports and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award all continued, despite the challenges.

Throughout online delivery, the college constantly sought feedback from students and learners, and adapted resources and delivery to ensure their needs were met.

The college also set up an onsite charity shop, an online eBay shop and a new takeaway service to ensure that work placements for students continued, and staff worked tirelessly to host annual events virtually, including open days, a prom and graduation ceremony.

As a result of staff commitment, the new Telford satellite campus opened as planned in September 2020 and, today, is delivering much-needed provision to students with SEND in the area.

Lead judge Lynette Barrett said: “During such adverse and difficult times, this college has shown how it has remained focused on student achievements and outcomes. The pandemic did not hold this college back; it initiated new projects, which meant student outcomes could be achieved, and learners remained safe and engaged in their education.

“The staff worked relentlessly to remain open and create new ways of working, which allowed some of the most vulnerable young people in society to achieve their outcomes without compromise.”

Overall FE provider of the year
London South East Colleges

London South East Colleges (LSEC) was the standout institution among a list of incredible further education providers at this year’s Tes FE Awards.

In 2019-20, LSEC went above and beyond to provide opportunities for its students. These included a partnership with Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust to support the Covid-19 vaccination rollout by creating a workforce development programme, which then provided exciting career pathways for learners locally. Students also benefited from outstanding employer engagement and gained virtual work placements at PwC, Willmott Dixon and Ofcom, to name just a few.

During the first lockdown, the group set up a local authority special educational needs and disability hub at its Bexley Campus to ensure that vulnerable students had face-to-face provision as and when needed. Staff also worked tirelessly to provide content for the National Oak Academy.

Time and time again, LSEC took the lead on sector-wide issues – including equality, diversity and inclusion – and pioneered forward-thinking initiatives that could be replicated across the UK. And the work in its local community – especially with FE Foodbank Friday – had a clear and lasting impact during what was a truly difficult time for many.

The judges praised chief executive Sam Parrett, who was named FE leader of the year at the Tes FE awards 2020, for her outstanding leadership.

They said: “London South East Colleges is doing superb work across a whole range of areas: community, employers, and equality, diversity and inclusion. It sees itself as a civic organisation within a substantial region and is completely of its community.

“The college has been a sector leader on a number of issues and, particularly in the past 18 months, it has done some amazing things. LSEC thoroughly deserves this award.”