Stephen Grix (pictured right), principal of Mid-Kent college, won the Prince Philip medal for exceptional achievement by a former City and Guilds student.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who has been president of City and Guilds for more than 50 years, gave Mr Grix the medal at a ceremony in St James's Palace.
David Young, chairman of City and Guilds, said: "Stephen is a fabulous example of what may be achieved when you have steadfast determination. His lifelong dedication to learning has truly transformed his career and life."
The medal is given to one person a year who has achieved exceptional things in their career after completing a City and Guilds qualification.
Mr Grix left school at 15 with no qualifications to become an apprentice in 1971. He studied bricklaying part-time at the college he would later run.
Over the next few years, he picked up a series of part-time qualifications and went on to acquire two degrees.
In 1977, he began his academic career as a bricklaying lecturer at Bexley college. After a number of teaching posts, he moved into management in local authorities, including a stint as education director of Tower Hamlets in London, and head of post-16 inspections at Ofsted.
And in March last year, the father-of-three took up the post of principal at Mid-Kent college.
Mr Grix, who is 50, said: "I think this background helps you relate to the students coming in and makes you a good role model.
"Originally, my aspiration was just to be good at the job I had chosen to do. But if you put your mind to it, anything is possible."