Anyone from the college cleaner to chief executive who is considered to have made a difference to the lives of learners in the post-16 sector can be nominated for a Star Award. The top 10 winners will be awarded pound;1,000 each at a Hollywood-style presentation ceremony to be held every September. Nominees will be judged on their dedication, innovation, inspiration, creativity and excellence.
Winners will also be given a place for the subsequent year on a new policy forum to be consulted by the Government on any planned reforms for post-school non-higher education.
Major sponsors of the awards include The TES and the Association of Colleges. The aim of the scheme is to make post-16 education and training a more attractive career.
Mr Clarke said: "There are many unsung heroes working in the learning and skills sector. Every day they make a difference to the quality of learning that six million learners receive.
"The new awards will help us identify good practice, raise the profile and morale of the people working in the sector, and raise awareness of the work done."
He told 320 delegates at a teaching and learning conference in London that the post-16 sector is "the bedrock on which we will deliver our most important strategies".
He added: "The sector is vital to achieving the twin objectives of this Government of economic success and social justice. We need to challenge long-standing beliefs in society that the vocational route is somehow second best, that the brightest pupils automatically do A-levels while the less able follow a vocational route."
Mr Clarke said he wanted the awards and annual ceremony to be recognised as a "flagship for the sector, to improve the image and create a feel-good factor".
Nominations for Star awards can be made by learners or members of the public who can put forward their teacher or trainer. Workers can nominate colleagues and managers can nominate staff.