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Worth celebrating

Susan MacDonald reports on how the hard work is finally paying off for those working in the learning and skills sector

An education proposal sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills does not always have people throwing their hats in the air, but the idea of an award to recognise the unsung heroes of further education appears to have had that effect.

Norman Cave, principal of Bournville College in Birmingham, says that further education can be in need of pats on the back and an awards scheme is an excellent way of doing this. "On the information pack we saw that learners could nominate teachers, so we left our choice to them. After all, they are the important people here," he says. "We were delighted when Abdellatif Erraoui was chosen as one of the 29 highly commended nominees.

These awards recognise the importance of this area of education and of our curriculum. Language training is under threat and he, as a French and Arabic lecturer, is a role model in this field."

Bob Evans, head of regimes at Dover Immigration Removal Centre, says that the DfES does not take enough time out to recognise FE people. "So when the information pack arrived, I immediately thought of Anne Morahan, our education manager. Here was a chance to thank her for her work with some 70 different nationalities, many of whom do not speak English, several of whom have been through terrible experiences and all of whom are here on a temporary basis. When she won, it created tremendous interest in our centre. Journalists who had consistently given us a bad press now came to look at what actually happens here."

Yvonne Barber, vocational training manager for the Wigan-based company ProCo NW Ltd, says that she nominated training consultant Alan Davies online. "Alan works with motor vehicle learners, many of whom have left school without any qualifications. When he won the Work-based Learning Trainer of the Year award I was happy that I had supported the scheme," she says.

"It also resulted in a lot of publicity and I can tell youngsters working with Alan this year that they are being taught by an award winner. We have an inspection soon, while the award won't change our grade, it will show the recognition given to us."

When Steven Gaskin, head of learning and skills at HMP Norwich, originally received the promotion pack, he ignored it. "But then I realised what a positive idea it was. It's about time we acknowledged the teaching work being done in prisons, where it is designed to stop prisoners returning to prison," he says. He nominated Ben Butler, English and maths lecturer, whose work with both prisoners and prison officers includes the discreet teaching of reading and writing.

Two of the prisoners he teaches explained how he had turned their lives around in an awards interview. "One, once considered too violent to be unlocked, attends sixth form college on daily release. The other has gained a degree. Ben also talks to secondary pupils on the edge of turning to crime. " Alison Lloyd is basic education scheme manager at the North London-based Elfrida Society, which enables people with moderate learning difficulties to live as they want to. "I noticed that the awards categories covered small education centres, so I nominated Carola Perales, our basic education tutor and the other half of our two-person, full-time team," she says. "It has been a terrific morale booster for teachers and learners, and the publicity has helped with our voluntary class-support recruiting and our constant struggle for funding."

The Outstanding Learning Support award was won by William Bode, volunteer co-ordinator for the Drum Community Media Centre in Sheffield, which offers help with IT design and radio production for all comers. Niels Puttemans, its technical operations manager, says: "William put in so much voluntary time supporting people such as refugees and disengaged youths and these awards were a brilliant way of showing our gratitude for his dedication, and a recognition of the work we do."

Richard Atkins, principal of Exeter college, says that when the awards information was circulated last year they thought it fitted in well with their idea of celebrating achievement. "The staff chatted over who to choose and elected Joy Mosley, who runs our fastest-growing department. At last year's inspection it was a disappointment that Ofsted didn't choose her department, so I was thrilled when she won the award for Staff Supporting Students with learning Difficulties andor Disabilities. " Peter Barnard, associate principal, customer services, of Grimsby institute, says he had no qualms about nominating Daniel Khan, the institute's principal, for an award. "Its part of the British disease that people are reluctant to put themselves forward but these awards are about celebrating excellence. In education you don't work to get rich but do get an enormous payback when something like an award comes along. It also brings people together," he says.

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