Are Alton College students particularly hairy or something?
Also among the winners of the awards, which aim to highlight how FE and sixth-form colleges contribute to Britain's success stories, are sport stars Hannah Cockroft, who won two gold medals in wheelchair sprints at last year's Paralympics, and England rugby player Maggie Alphonsi.
Here's the rundown of the full list of winners:
- Maggie Alphonsi, England rugby player, Hertford Regional College
- Paul Barron, business consultant, Lincoln College
- Hannah Cockroft, Paralympic double gold medallist, Calderdale College, West Yorkshire
- Professor Chris Day, pro-vice chancellor and professor of liver medicine at Newcastle University, Tyne Metropolitan College
- Greg Fitzgerald, chief executive of Galliford Try plc, South Devon College
- Adam Gray, executive chef, Skylon Restaurant at the Southbank Centre, Northampton College
- Russell Howard, comedian, Alton College, Hampshire
- Sarah Longthorn, founder of designer wellington boot company WedgeWelly, Hull College
Let's hear it for colleges and their fabulous protgs.
Could the new FE commissioner force `failing FE colleges' into UTCs or for-profit sector? - 3 April 2013
Control of failing colleges will in future pass to an FE commissioner appointed by ministers, who will have the power to shut them down.
The skills strategy, Rigour and responsiveness in skills, published today, sets out a new intervention regime if colleges trigger any of three conditions: an inadequate grade from Ofsted, a failure to meet the Skills Funding Agency's (SFA) minimum standards of performance, or poor financial management.
The strategy creates a new "administered college" status, where institutions lose the right to freedom from centralised targets and controls, and cannot make decisions about staffing and expenditure without approval of the commissioner.
Alternatively, the commissioner can remove some or all of the governing body, or dissolve the college entirely. In that case, the strategy says that provision could be handed to free schools, university technical colleges (UTCs), sixth-form colleges or any SFA provider, which could include private profit-making organisations.
"It is wholly unacceptable that nearly one and half million learners are not receiving teaching that is rated as good," said FE minister Matthew Hancock, although the intervention does not encompass colleges in the "requires improvement" grade. "Where colleges are failing learners we will be knocking on their doors and take swift and effective action."
The Association of Colleges said it was rare for failing colleges not to be able to improve on their own, with only one college in the past five years receiving successive failing grades. Under the new strategy, only under "exceptional" circumstances will colleges be given 12 months to improve without government intervention.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, warned that dissolving colleges could be "privatisation by the back door". "The emphasis on failing colleges is disappointing at a time when private companies have made no secret of their desire to move into areas of post-16 education that they believe might turn a profit. There must be clear protection of public assets and a transparent process for any intervention in our colleges," she said.
Journey into the unknown - navigating the new landscape of FE loans proves challenging - 2 April 2013
Further education loans for over-24s taking level 3 courses were launched on Monday, largely unnoticed by a world busy with April fools' day jokes and the Easter break. But students trying to pick a course, understand how much it will cost and find the best place to study will soon become all too aware of the new system.
This afternoon, I put myself in the shoes of someone looking for an access-to-HE course to work out what the difficulties might be. It wasn't a great experience, and it left me wondering why FE loans have been launched without the involvement of a watchdog - something like the Office for Fair Access, say, or even a price comparison website.
First stop was my local college, City and Islington. Through its website, I was able to discover fairly quickly that all its access courses arepriced at pound;1,495.But is that a lot or a little for this option?
So I checked out a college that would be handy for work - City Lit, which is just around the corner frommy office in central London. But when I visited its website, no new access courses were listed.
Having emailed the college's PR team, I now know that new courses for September will be listed on the site from June. A member of the public could not do that - although they could ring up, of course. But what we're looking for here is price transparency, which turns out to be rare.
Next I tried the National Careers Service website, although I'm not convinced many would-be students would know about it. That gave meplenty of options but the information on fees was extremely patchy.
A few colleges were forthcoming: take a bow, Westminster Kingsway (pound;1,600) and South Thames College (pound;1,250 - information not easily available on the college's own website).
But several othercolleges instruct you to call them for prices.This is price transparency la the notoriously shifty gym industry.Colleges shouldsurely hold themselves to a higher standard than that.
Waltham Forest charges pound;1,452 for access courses according to its own website, but Kensington and Chelsea and Lambeth offer no prices that I can find. Newham College's website offers a confusing table with achoose-your-own-adventure depending on your age and prior qualifications but which didn't give a firm figure in the end.
The options didn't end there for the National Careers Service. Based on my North London postcode, it also suggested Aquinas College, a sixth-form college with adult provision based in Stockport, Cheshire.It would charge me pound;2,500 for an access course, and a lot more in travel and sanity.
That example is absurd but it shows how difficult it is simply to compare the cost of equivalent courses in your area. The Skills Funding Agency couldn't tell me the average cost of a course, only that the allowablemaximum rates ranged from pound;336 for a general studies A-levelup to pound;9,621 for an advanced apprenticeship in instrument pipefitting. That's not much help.
When loans for higher education were introduced, the Office for Fair Access wasset up to provide centralised information about feesas well as to hold universities to account on their prices.
But there's no one looking out for FE students, who now face price variations of severalhundred pounds with little information to support their choice.
More bad news for take-up of apprenticeships among under-19s - 29 March 2013
The latest apprenticeship figures confirm two trends that emerged with the first-quarter numbers in January: efforts to shift apprenticeships to higher levels of achievement are working, but at the cost of opportunities for under-19s.
But it isn't a straight swap: the numbers for under-19s are falling faster than the rise in advanced apprentices, while the numbers of older apprentices at level 2 are also falling, causing overall numbers to drop by 4.5 per cent to 245,000.
According to the figures published today, the numbers of 16- to 19-year-olds starting apprenticeships are nearly 10,000 down on the same time last year, with 69,600 starts compared with 79,100.
The trend is showing no sign of improvement: the first-quarter figures were down by just under 10 per cent, and in the second quarter they have fallen by 18 per cent.
While the largest number of apprentices are recruited in the first quarter, starting in August, the decline doesn't provide any reassurance that the government has got to grips with what it called in January a "major challenge within a difficult economic climate".
The good news is that its message to recruit more apprentices at level 3 and above is being received by employers and training providers.
The number of advanced apprentices rose by more than 5,000 to 95,200, although the second-quarter figures themselves aren't better than last year's. Higher apprenticeships reached 3,000, up from 1,900 this time last year.
It seems likely that the two trends are at least partly linked. At level 2, more or less the same numbers of apprentices start in all three groups: under-19s, 19- 24, and 25-plus. By level 3, the numbers of under-19s are about half of the over-25s.
Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden accused the government of "complacency" over apprenticeship figures, which are suffering their first fall after nearly doubling in two years. He criticised the refusal to support Labour's plans requiring any companies with government contracts worth pound;1 million or more to employ apprentices.
"These figures are disappointing and deeply alarming," he said. "Yet only two weeks ago, they voted against our proposals to use public procurement to create thousands of new apprenticeships for young people and deliver that step change - an action that is even more incredible when you consider the numbers of apprenticeships for young people are down 12 per cent."
In the parliamentary debate earlier this month, business minister Michael Fallon said the government supported linking procurement and apprenticeships, but claimed the Labour motion had technical errors that would mean it would include all government contracts, including those with public bodies such as local councils.
The government is instead placing some of its hopes for improvement in traineeships, new six-month courses for people who aren't ready for apprenticeships. But with the programme due to launch in September, and no details finalised yet, how much impact can they have?
ATL delegates demand free school meals be extended to FE students - 25 March 2013
The Association of Colleges' "No Free Lunch?" campaign was formed to highlight the disparity that means post-16 students in school sixth forms receive free school meals, while their counterparts in FE and sixth-form colleges do not.
The campaign has been steadily gaining momentum and today the issue was under the spotlight at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Liverpool. The first motion of the conference, proposed by Richard Salter of Somerset, criticised the "unfair" anomaly, and called on the union's executive to "lobby the government so that young people eligible for free school meals in the maintained sector continue to receive free school meals in all FE provision".
The problem is particularly significant, he told delegates, as 794,000 young people in the 16-18 bracket - almost twice as many as are educated in schools - go to colleges. Of these, 103,000 would be eligible for a free lunch if they went to a school.
The situation has worsened since the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, Mr Salter added, leaving many teenagers facing "significant challenges to continue their education" - especially in those areas where they have no choice but to go to a college.
Clare Kellett, a teacher at West Somerset Community College - a school, confusingly - spoke of an incident involving one of her students, Jess, who "has toast for breakfast and supper because that's all that she can afford". The school has been able to provide her with lunch. "Had we been an FE college, Jess would not have had any lunch that day, or the day before, or the next. It's as simple as that," she said. "That's the level of poverty we're dealing with."
While ministers have acknowledged that the status quo is an unintentional historical anomaly, they have not signalled any intention to rectify the situation.
After unanimously voting to support the motion, delegates in Liverpool gave a clear indication that they feel the time has come to act.
Read previous stories from the FE news blog