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Inspirational staff from across the sector are to be feted, reports Martin Whittaker

Sandra Brown went into engineering in the mid-1960s.

"I was the only female at college," she recalls. "It wasn't very acceptable when I started."

Today she is a training adviser, assessor and internal verifier with North East Chamber of Commerce, a private training provider. She actively promotes careers in engineering for women using her own example as a role model.

She does it with some success. Ten per cent of trainees on the provider's engineering courses are female - above the national average. According to the Engineering and Technology Board, only 3 per cent of the UK's registered engineers are women.

Now Sandra Brown's contribution to work-based learning is being recognised after she was shortlisted for a STAR Award in the category of work-based learning trainer of the year.

As well as her work to promote equal opportunities she has attended sign language courses to help her communicate with people with impaired hearing.

The nomination came out of the blue for Sandra, 56. "I didn't know until I got a phone call," she says. "I was quite proud and touched."

Linda Paleschi, who nominated her, said: "She's an inspiration to everybody. She doesn't expect anybody to do anything that she wouldn't do herself."

The STAR Awards, for which The TES is media sponsor, is now in its second year. They have their roots in the 2002 government strategy document Success For All, which called for an awards scheme to boost morale and raise the profile of the learning and skills sector.

And, unlike the national Teaching Awards, the STAR Awards were intended to honour everyone in the sector, from learning support worker to college principal.

Last October, the first 13 winners received their awards. This year's awards are bigger, with 1,585 award nominations and new prize categories, including a team award. Judges have whittled the nominations down to a shortlist of just over 150 nominees across 16 prize categories.

The nominees and guests will attend an awards ceremony in London on October 11, when the 16 prizewinners will be announced. Individual winners take home a pound;2,000 cash prize, a trophy and certificate. There is a pound;5,000 cash prize, trophy and certificate for the winning team.

Bill Rammell, minister for lifelong learning, further and higher education, said: "The STAR Awards recognise some of the truly outstanding work that goes on every day in the learning and skills sector. They show the commitment of tutors, trainers, managers and support staff and the transforming effect this has on learners and colleagues alike."

One of the nominees attending next month's ceremony is Rosemary Booth, course leader in HNC graphic design at Warwickshire college.

Rosemary, who has just retired at 60, is shortlisted for an award for outstanding lifetime achievement.

"Rosemary inspires through her enthusiasm, belief in her students and her warmth of character and intellect," says her nomination submission.

Rosemary has been learning Chinese and uses the characters in teaching typographic history. She finds her smattering of the language useful for making the Chinese students feel welcome.

She plays down her nomination. "I feel a bit of a fraud really," she said.

"The only way I can justify it to myself is that I'm retiring. If somebody doesn't nominate me now, nobody ever will."

Another shortlisted nominee is Mike Scanlan, team leader in study support for learners with impaired vision at Liverpool community college.

Mike, who is himself visually impaired, has taught Braille, keyboarding and touch-typing since 1987. He has helped hundreds of visually-impaired learners to become more mobile. His achievements in support of his students are described as outstanding. In 2003-4, all of the 16 to 18-year-olds on his courses achieved their qualifications.

Mike, 50, said: "I was surprised and delighted to be shortlisted. I work in the area of visual impairment and that tends to be very hit-and-miss in FE, so I hope this might raise awareness of that."

His manager Maureen Hughes, who nominated him, said: "Mike is excellent at his job. He's very popular with staff and students. And he does a lot of extra-curricular activity. He has taken students on mini-holidays."

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