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Dancing feat earned award

Matthew Wilson has nothing but admiration for the further education teacher who turned around his A-level hopes. Last year he failed biology under a different teacher; this year he has gained an A in one module and hopes to gain a B overall this summer. "I really do attribute it to Mr Spencer's teaching," he says.

"You're never bored, never dictated to. He has you up and dancing to music all the time. There's a dance for everything. He has so many different ways to make the information stick in your mind."

Richard Spencer, a biology teacher at Bede college, Billingham, Cleveland, was in the first wave of Star Award winners last October. The awards were launched in 2003 by then Education Secretary Charles Clarke following publication of the Department for Education and Skills' Success For All strategy to reform FE.

The Star Awards are designed to honour the unsung heroes and are open to those working across the learning and skills sector, including management, lecturers and support staff. In 2004, their first year, the awards received more than 1,600 nominations, from which 130 were shortlisted and 13 winners chosen.

The awards have been welcomed for creating a feelgood factor, but the benefits for winners seem to go further than kudos for them and their institution. Awards organiser Geronimo PR says that although there is no statistical evidence, it believes students become more motivated when their tutor or learner support worker wins an award.

Richard Spencer, who won FE Tutor of the Year, has been described as "biology teacher extraordinaire" by his principal, Miriam Stanton. His retention and pass rates are significantly above average and he uses fun ways to engage his students, including music and dancing and playing bingo, snakes and ladders and wheel of fortune.

Matthew Wilson, 18, says Mr Spencer's win last year had an uplifting effect on him and his fellow students. "From my point of view, since he's had this Star Award and this recognition, a lot of people have gone into his lessons far more open-minded. Instead of just going with it, they have really started to embrace his teaching."

Stacey Ramskill changed careers after being inspired by her tutor's classes. She used to be a childminder before going on to take further education teaching qualifications, and she now teaches family literacy and IT in Wakefield's community centres. Stacey says that when tutor Geraldine Wriglesworth won Adult and Community Learning Tutor of the Year in last year's Star Awards, it had a knock-on effect on her learners.

"They were really pleased for Geraldine," she says. "It's nice for them to see that a good tutor is appreciated, especially one that they know.

"It's nice to think that you're rewarded. I know you're rewarded anyway when you enjoy your job, but it's really nice to see somebody being nationally recognised for their hard work and the effect they have on their learners."

There is just one week left to make a nomination for this year's Star Awards - the deadline is midnight on April 15. A shortlist will be announced in June and the awards ceremony will be held in London in October.

"We would encourage everybody to think about the Star working in their organisation," says a spokeswoman for Geronimo PR. "It's really quick and easy to nominate, and you don't just have to limit it to one person - you can nominate as many deserving people as you wish."

Visit the website to make your nomination, or call the helpline on 0800 652 0528 to request a nomination form.

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