Tes FE Awards: how one winner won praise from Theresa May

To celebrate the launch of the Tes FE Awards 2018, we visit West Suffolk College, one of the 2017 winners that won the admiration of the Prime Minister

Tes Reporter

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A great lesson is one that imparts lasting knowledge to all the students in a particular class. But to win the Tes FE Award for best teaching and learning initiative, you really have to do something special.

Last year, West Suffolk College won the award for their MARS initiative – a project that merges maths, art, religion and science. Created by the school’s director, Derek Johnson, the project takes its inspiration from Cern, home of the Large Hadron Collider.

Johnson discovered that outside Cern’s Geneva campus was a statue of the Hindu god Shiva – the creator and the destroyer who dances to the pulse of the universe. “There were obvious links to the ‘God particle’," Johnson says. "I found it fascinating, especially in a European setting."

This inspired a series of creative works at the college based on the collision of art, science and religion. “The art work that came from that project was really powerful and made us recognise that there was something there to develop,” Johnson recalls.

Maths was then added to the group of subjects, allowing clear articulation and development of mathematical elements already present within the art and design curriculum. Though the college’s maths and science departments are regularly consulted, it is still art and design lecturers who deliver the MARS project. And this necessitates extensive research and ongoing learning for the staff involved – an exciting form of CPD, which banishes any notion of subject stagnation, Johnson explains.

'I’m always telling the students to be brave'

“There’s always a danger in education of rolling out the same old stuff as last year that’s safe and doesn’t need much planning,” Johnson says. “But that takes the fun out of teaching. I’m always telling the students to take risks, to be brave in the subject, so we have to be as well.”

The award thrust West Suffolk College into the limelight. Regional and national press picked up on the college’s success, leading to Conservative MP Jo Churchill, in whose constituency of Bury St Edmunds West Suffolk College lies, asking prime minister Theresa May what she thought about it during PMQs.

"I’m very happy to join my honourable friend in congratulating West Suffolk College for the award that they have been given in this category for best teaching and learning initiative for their MARS initiative," Ms May said. "I think it’s a really interesting initiative that they have put in place. I congratulate all the staff and this is a sign, I think, this award, of the dedication of the staff and the students at West Suffolk College.

"All colleges across the country should be aspiring to reach these standards and she’s absolutely right, we do need to ensure that young people have not just a skill set but also the enquiring mind that enables them as they look forward to what may be different careers throughout their life, to be able to embrace new skills and change throughout their careers."

Tes FE Awards 2018: the categories

  • Lifetime achievement
  • Support for learners
  • Contribution to the local community
  • Best teaching and learning initiative
  • Outstanding use of technology for improving teaching, learning and assessment
  • Employer engagement
  • Assessor of the year
  • Professional services team of the year
  • Apprenticeship programme of the year
  • Teacher of the year
  • FE leader of the year
  • FE college of the year
  • Training provider of the year
  • Sixth-form college of the year
  • Specialist provider of the year
  • Adult and community learning provider of the year

How to enter 

Entry is free and open to all further education establishments in the UK. Simply submit 500 words on why you should win, before midnight on Friday 27 October 2017 at tesfeawards.co.uk Find out if you’ve made the shortlist on Friday 15 December 2017. The winners will be revealed at a glittering awards ceremony on Friday 23 February 2018 at The Grosvenor House hotel in London's Park Lane.

For more information, visit tesfeawards.co.uk

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