Local heroes

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Media coverage of the winners has brought them instant recognition and new opportunities, and it is hoped that this new-found fame will rub off and raise the profile of the learning and skills sector too. reports

Some are born famous, some achieve fame and some have the spotlight turned upon them. But can education and training hang on to its STARs once they've trodden the boards on a bigger stage?

Richard Spencer got the call to become a media pundit in a live discussion reviewing the Sunday newspapers on Tyne Tees Television. "That was excellent," he said, "I've never done anything like that before."

A new career beckoned. But neither the glitz of television nor the glamour of appearing at the Association of Colleges conference in the company of such celebrities as Alastair Campbell could tempt him away from teaching biology.

However, the prestige of the award has given him the confidence and opportunity to develop and spread his teaching methods, for which he was nominated FE Tutor of the Year by his principal, Miriam Stanton, and students at Bede college in Billingham, Cleveland.

Richard has since been nominated science learning coach for the college to work with the Department for Education and Skills Standards Unit in sharing best practice through their regional network.

The Learning and Skills Development Agency has approached him to attend a seminar on innovation in teaching. And nearer to home, the award has raised his college's profile: he was invited into a local school to teach a Year 10 class.

Richard has also won an interview for a Gatsby Teaching Fellowship. Part of the Sainsbury family group of charities, the fellowship provides funds for teachers of maths, science and design and technology to develop innovative and inspirational teaching methods.

And while he cannot know whether the STAR Awards helped him to get the interview, it gave him the confidence to try.

Whether it is cause and effect or not, Daniel Khan, principal and chief executive of the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, has been invited to serve on more discussion groups and committees since winning the award for Outstanding Leadership. He has also been interviewed for research into leadership methods by the universities of Lancaster and Greenwich, which will help to spread good practice when the research is published.

As well as rewarding individual achievement, the awards acknowledge the worth of the learning and skills sector as a whole. "People appreciate that the Government is recognising the work of the further education field," says Daniel. "People feel respected and valued."

But if colleges have felt ignored compared with schools and universities, other parts of the learning and skills sector have been battling against a negative image. Anne Morahan's award for Outstanding Management of Learning brought the local press in to discover some of the good things going on at the Dover Immigration Removal Centre, which houses asylum seekers whose applications have failed or who are awaiting appeals.

And Dover is not the only part of the prison service to get positive stories. At HMP Norwich, maths and English lecturer Ben Butler won the Offender Tutor of the Year award. "The inmates had scoured the press for write-ups - it was their achievement. It gave the department a terrific boost," he said.

Since the award, applications for normally hard to fill teaching posts have gone up at City College Norwich, where prison education is part of the inclusion strategy. The part-time numeracy lecturer's job now has a waiting list.

Appearances on BBC regional radio and television have brought Ben public recognition and response on the street; none of it negative, he says. He sees his 15 minutes of fame as an opportunity to be an ambassador for prison education. "If there's anything I can do to alter public perceptions or engage minds, I feel pretty responsible about not letting the opportunity slip," he said.

He hopes to build up contacts with local commerce and industry to get ex-offenders opportunities for training or employment, and to work with schools to let young people know what prison is really like and knock the glamour off the image of crime.

But exploiting opportunities for the STAR Award winners and their sectors has been patchy so far, with colleges seeming to take the lead. As the awards scheme develops beyond its first year, the DfES hopes such celebrations will raise the prestige of the sector as a whole.

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