The public knows House of Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd as a former dancing Tiller Girl but at Dewsbury College her humble beginnings as a former student have more significance, writes Ian Nash.
Miss Boothroyd has been hailed by the college as a supreme model for today's women students. She is one of four distinguished products of FE colleges to receive a new award from the Association for Colleges for outstanding achievement.
The AFC gold awards, to be presented at the House of Commons next week, aim to raise the profile of the sector among policy-makers as well as honour individuals. The failure of politicians and the press to see anything other than schools or universities is cited by colleges as a constant source of annoyance.
Miss Boothroyd acknowledges her indebtedness to her college education. A scholarship took her to the college and a commercial studies course in 1943. Her father, an unemployed millworker during the Depression, saw education as the way out of poverty.
"He was delighted. He felt it was the sort of education that would earn me a living," she told The TES. And while she gave up typing the keys for tapping the boards of London's post-war Soho Theatres, it was the skills she marshalled at college which took her back to Dewsbury, the Labour party and the job of political researcher.
"She is an outstanding example of a woman who made it to one of the highest positions in the country from humble beginnings," said a college spokesman.
Another winner is playwright and former teacher Willy Russell whose most successful play and film, Educating Rita, affirms lifelong learning and the further education system. He is nominated by City of Liverpool College, where he returned to learn in his 20s, studying O-levels and A-levels.
Ruth Gee, chief executive of the AFC, said: "We are delighted to be able to honour these distinguished public figures. It is great credit to the colleges that they played a significant part in starting them on their way."
A third award winner is Paul Heathcote whose restaurant is the only one in the North-east to be awarded two Michelin stars. He trained for two years at Bolton College.
The fourth winner is Philip Kojo Afful, former student of Rycotewood College and the water and sanitation worker for the North Eastern Kenyan Desert region.