Winning two prestigious TES FE Awards (college of the year and overall FE provider of the year) was about so much more than acquiring accolades and awards.
The honours represent an extremely credible endorsement of the ethos and approach we have spent some 15 years embedding throughout Weston College: that of putting the learner first and foremost in everything we do.
I believed – and hoped – we had been getting things right, in terms of our increasingly impressive outcomes for learners, and the growing diversity of our provision. But there's nothing quite as powerful as third-party endorsement from outside the organisation, particularly from well-respected establishments, whose award-winners are chosen by panels of distinguished judges, many of them experienced experts in the education sector.
I believed we had a good chance of winning an award. I know we faced strong and worthy competition, but I also know just how hard everyone associated with Weston College has worked over many years, on a remarkable transformation – Weston today is unrecognisable compared to the college at the turn of the century.
Our journey has involved a poorly regarded institution, which was in poor financial health and was providing poor quality education, reinventing itself as a vibrant college. Hot on the heels of earning Ofsted's top rating of outstanding, we won the two TES FE Awards, and I can't begin to describe the immense pride I felt when I stepped onto the stage to receive them. To hear that the judges unanimously felt that Weston College stood out from the crowd, despite very strong competition, was so satisfying.
The endorsement and national recognition the awards represent reassures us that we have been moving in the right direction, and despite the many difficulties facing the education sector, they give us the confidence to build on the firm foundations we have laid. Winning these awards does not represent the end of a journey, it represents the end of the beginning of a journey, and gives us the courage to continue on. Our aim is to "create brighter futures" for our learners, and we do that by creating a brighter future for the Weston College Group.
Maintaining a position at the top of the sector requires continuing hard work and dedication – but it's a challenge we are equipped to meet head-on. FE is on a bumpy ride at the moment and government agendas around change in the sector are extremely challenging. Earning national recognition – and reaching a peak – is a success we can all be proud of.
Dr Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College
To enter this year's TES FE Awards by 6 December 2015, go to www.tesfeawards.co.uk