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Reward for the brightest and best

Star awards pay homage to FE's unsung heroes. Martin Whittaker reports.

It'e time for the starts among you to step forward and take a bow. The second year of a national award to honour the best of those working in the learning and skills sector is launched this week. Organisers say the scheme is living up to ministerial promises that it will get bigger and better.

Nominations for the Star awards 2005 open on February 7, when packs containing nomination forms and prize categories drop onto colleges'

doormats and other post-16 education and training providers.

This year, the awards will cover areas such as the voluntary sector, and recognise teamwork and innovative practice. There are five new prizes and the money for each winner has doubled to pound;2,000.

Famous ambassadors for the sector have been lined up to support the awards and to raise their profile. Those giving their backing include actor and writer Stephen Fry, former pop star-turned garden designer Kim Wilde, TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and fashion designer Bruce Oldfield.

Stephen Fry said: "As a young man some time in the mid-17th century, I studied for A-levels at City college Norwich and therefore have a personal experience of those working within the sector helping students to reach their learning goals, setting them on a path to future achievement. Without their passion, flair, charm, patience and belief I would never have gone on to university and the squalid career that followed."

The Star Awards were launched in November 2003 by Charles Clarke, the then education secretary, who wanted them to create a "feel-good factor" in the largely demoralised further education and training sector.

The scheme is organised by the Association of Colleges and Geronimo Public Relations, and backed by the Department for Education and Skills, with the TES as media sponsor. From the outset the awards were seen as much broader than their counterpart, the National Teaching Awards, their aim being to honour the unsung heroes - everyone from college principals to caretakers could be nominated.

The awards brought a big response in their first year - there were more than 1,600 nominations from staff and learners resulting in 130 shortlisted nominees. The year culminated in a gala dinner and ceremony in October, when 13 winners stepped up to receive a trophy, a framed certificate for their employer and a pound;1,000 prize.

Judith Norrington, director of curriculum and quality with the AoC and a member of the judging panel, said the focus is now on raising the scheme's profile. "It was universally acclaimed as an extremely successful first year, so we have a solid basis to build on," she said. "Obviously we will try to make sure that as many people as possible get to hear about it."

The 2004 list of winners included an IT tutor from Rotherham library, a tutor who engages learners through family keep-fit sessions, a college principal and a training consultant in the motor trade. One winner, Joy Mosley, head of department for foundation studies at Exeter college, said:

"When I heard my name read out, I wanted to skip up the red carpet. I'm absolutely delighted to receive this national recognition not only for me, but also for my department as no one person is responsible for the growth and success of the work we do."

Last year's winners also report a huge amount of local recognition for their awards as regional newspapers and radio stations picked up their stories.

Ben Butler, an English and maths lecturer at Norwich prison, says staffing difficulties in the prison's education department have now eased thanks to his award. "There's been a complete sea change," he says. "We have had half a dozen applicants and four successful appointments from college staff to come and work in the prison."

Abdellatif Erraoui, who lectures in French and Arabic at Bournville college in Birmingham and was commended at last year's ceremony, said his award has benefited his colleagues and students.

"I think the award recognises the unsung heroes who help many people here, and that's given me more strength to work harder. I feel very proud of it."

This year, the number of categories has been expanded. The search is on for the subject learning coach of the year, the volunteer who has made an outstanding contribution, and an outstanding team. Also up for grabs are two outstanding achievement awards, for lifetime achievement, and innovative practice and inspiration.

This week education and training providers, including colleges, adult and community learning providers, learndirect centres, prisons and work-based learning providers, will receive Star Awards toolkits.

Packs contain nomination forms, a booklet listing prize categories, the criteria for nomination, plus posters and flyers to advertise the awards and details on how to nominate. The awards ceremony will be held in October at The Brewery in London.

Nominations for the Star Awards open on February 7. To nominate a Star from the learning and skills sector or to find out more about the awards, please visit, or call the freephone Star Awards helpline on 0800 652 0528, Monday-Friday, 8.30am-5.15pm. Entries must be received by midnight on April 15

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