Scottish principal `delighted' by top prize at FE Awards

6th March 2015 at 00:00
Mhairi Harrington wins leader of the year at prestigious event

West Lothian College's principal has triumphed over competition from further education institutions across the UK to be named leader of the year at the TES FE Awards 2015.

Mhairi Harrington received the prize last week at a ceremony in London's Grosvenor House hotel, which was attended by more than 500 people.

The judges said Ms Harrington had managed to protect her college in times of fundamental change and dramatically improve results for learners.

Since her appointment in 2008, the number of full-time students at the college has increased by 39 per cent. And in 2013-14, 86 per cent of its Higher National graduates progressed into employment or further study. This is in spite of the significant funding cuts and challenges experienced by the Scottish college sector in recent years.

Ms Harrington has also been credited with enabling West Lothian College to survive the regional reorganisation of the Scottish FE sector, overseen by former education secretary Michael Russell in 2012.

After being named as a regional college in its own right, West Lothian avoided having to merge with other institutions. Representatives from the college said this allowed it to retain its distinctive character and build on its existing partnerships and expertise.

Ms Harrington has also made her mark beyond the college as a member of several sector-wide groups, including the Curriculum for Excellence management board, which has overall responsibility for ensuring the programme of reform is delivered.

Reflecting on winning FE leader of the year, Ms Harrington said she was "truly delighted and honoured, especially as this award signals the tremendous support myself, the staff and students receive from our external partners, stakeholders and board members". She added: "It is a testament from the community which recognises the hard work of the college and its ambition for our learners, and it was a privilege to be presented with the award at such a prestigious event."

Janie McCusker, chair of the college's board, said: "The principal provides very effective leadership that maintains a college-wide focus on delivering high-quality, relevant outcomes for learners."

Ms Harrington wasn't the only Scottish success story at the awards, which received more entries from north of the border than ever before.

West College Scotland was highly commended in the contribution to the local community category, after it helped Paisley Thread Mill Museum to display the Great Tapestry of Scotland in full for the first time. Owing to its size - the tapestry is the biggest in the world at 469ft (143m) long - it had never before been exhibited as intended by its creators.

But the college's construction students designed a floor layout and created special frames to hold the tapestry's 160 panels, which were stitched by 1,000 volunteers and tell the story of Scotland's 12,000-year history from Neolithic times to Andy Murray's 2013 Wimbledon triumph.

The piece attracted crowds of visitors when it was first displayed in the Scottish Parliament in 2013, and subsequently in towns across Scotland.

The winners

Lifetime achievement Di Layzelle, Croydon College, London

Support for students Canterbury College, Kent

Contribution to the local community Havering College of Further and Higher Education, London

Best teaching and learning initiative Chichester College, West Sussex

Outstanding contribution to a subject or vocational area Bradford College, West Yorkshire

Outstanding use of technology in FE Heart of Worcestershire College

Marketingcommunications campaign of the year Wakefield College, West Yorkshire

Employer engagement Belfast Metropolitan College, Northern Ireland

Training provider of the year Lifetime Training, Bristol

College of the year Weston College, Somerset

Teacher of the year Peter Wright, the Blackpool Sixth Form College, Lancashire

FE leader of the year Mhairi Harrington, West Lothian College, Scotland

Overall FE provider of the year Weston College

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