Hail the unsung heroes

28th May 2004 at 01:00
The STAR awards will celebrate the work of the learning and skills sector. Simon Midgley spoke to the judges

In the past few years the achievements of teachers in schools have been celebrated in an annual Oscar-style award scheme for outstanding individuals.

Now this year, for the first time, there is a similar scheme for all those unsung heroes who work in the diverse Learning and Skills sector.

The Star awards, for which The TES is a media sponsor, will highlight and reward the exemplary work of the 600,000 people who have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of life of 6 million people in further, adult and community education and training.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, launched the awards in November to create "a feel-good factor". The first round of nominations closed on April 30, astonishing everyone by attracting more than 1,000 entries - well beyond expectations.

Anyone working in further, adult, community or work-based education and training is eligible to be nominated. The aim of the scheme, backed by the Department for Education and Skills, is to reward outstanding achievement in three categories: lecturers, trainers and tutors; support staff; and leaders and managers. Judges have been selected from the sector.

The Association of Colleges is a co-organiser of the awards and Judith Norrington, its director of curriculum and quality, is chair of the judging panel. "For too long people who have supported the full range of learners have not been recognised," she said. "This is the first time that we are trying to look right across the sector.

"It is vital that we recognise people who have made a difference," she said. "Part of the theme behind the STAR Awards is unsung heroes - people who would not otherwise get formal recognition. There are many, many people who support, help, enthuse and encourage learners."

From the initial nomination of individuals to the final judging, the scheme must be as open and accessible as possible, she agrees. Anyone is free to nominate a Star. They just have to single out someone whose commitment and professionalism has made a difference to the learning environment in which they work.

A shortlist of 130 finalists will attend a STAR Awards ceremony in London in October. Thirteen people will be awarded prizes. Each winner will receive pound;1,000, a trophy and a certificate.

Dolly Fareeda Naeem, a judge who is assistant chief executive of the Newham Training and Enterprise Centre (Newtec), admits she may well have to declare an interest. Her 23-year-old daughter, Maryam Naeem, was intending to nominate her chemistry teacher at Epping Forest College. Azim Khan, she says, helped her to get the science grades she needed for medical school.

Mrs Naeem said the new awards will be a tremendous motivator. "We all know these success stories where people have gone on to do well because somebody helped them, inspired them and motivated them," she said. "I still get emails from people I taught sciences to who say, 'Thank you Mrs Naeem. I am now a doctor, a physiotherapist or a nurse.' It's such a privilege."

For another judge, Bob Powell, chief officer of Holex, which represents providers of adult and community learning, the Star awards provide a "focal point" for rewarding the sector more widely. "They are celebrating dedication, skill and commitment," he said. "I would love to be able to give a Star award to just about every member of the adult and community learning workforce."

Giles Pepler, principal of Thomas Rotherham college, representing the Sixth Form Colleges Forum, said: "We don't do enough to celebrate the unsung work that a lot of people who work in further education put in on the teaching, support and training side. At the moment this is all too easily taken for granted. The awards are a very good idea."

Christine Lewis, national officer for Unison, the union representing support staff, said: "The awards will raise the profile of what support staff do in further education. People have a clear idea of teachers and instructors. It's an opportunity for us to emphasise all the different roles.

"Support staff tend to be thought of as a sort of mass. In fact they do a very wide variety of roles - technical, information, student support, pastoral and keeping the colleges clean and the students fed."

Mike Allmond, chairman of ReMIT (the Retail Motor Industry Training Group) and a director of the Association of Learning Providers, is a judge representing the providers of work-based learning. He said the award will "broaden the appreciation of success in achieving things, in doing things well."

The final member of the judging panel will be a representative of the DfES Standards Unit.

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