Don't allowthe STAR light fade

6th October 2006 at 01:00
Everyone lined up to praise of the STAR Awards when they were launched three years ago. They were coined "Oscars for lecturers" and great names supporting them included Actor and author Stephen Fry, former pop star-turned garden designer Kim Wilde, TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and fashion designer Bruce Oldfield.

At last, colleges and training companies would have something to sing about, after criticisms that all the razzamatazz was going to schools. The STAR Awards, you will remember, were launched on the back of the National Teaching Awards, which grew out of Tony Blair's pledge to raise the profile of education, give damehoods to lollipop ladies and celebrate the achievements of the great unsung.

Okay, so some people were annoyed that the STAR Awards for staff and managers in the colleges and training centres seemed to come as an after-thought. Unlike the annual extravaganza for schools, the colleges would never attract the likes of film producer David Puttnam and an hour on prime time Channel 4 television. But there was a national annual celebration and presentation at a big London venue, with plenty of the feel-good factor.

Now, it seems, that is to go or at best be downgraded - without any real thought as to what message this sends out. The Department for Education and Skills is handing the running of the awards to the Quality Improvement Agency, and with it, we find a whole raft of cost-cutting measures. It is almost as if the ministers have had their accolades and moments of glory from the scheme and are now tired of it. This Award is about inspiration and passion, not about targets and arcane quality measures. Great care must be taken to avoid bureaucratising the life out of the awards.

The University and College Union is right to be sceptical of the changes spelled out on page 1. But if it withdraws its support, it will be a disaster. Just look at how much the former lecturers' union Natfhe and support staff union Unison did to promote the cause until now.

Let the QIA get on with the paperwork and managing the process of identifying the stars. But leave the lecturers, support staff and managers in the classroom, lab and workshop to nurture the talent. But, most of all, politicians and civil servants should avoid using this as a penny-pinching and cost-cutting exercise. Otherwise, this very good initiative will die.

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