Skip to main content

The transformative power of colleges

03 February 2016

This week, the Association of Colleges (AoC) held a special event in Parliament celebrating student success. The reception was to celebrate the achievements of the Association of Colleges’ Student of the Year recipients. Hosted in a grand room at the House of Commons, it provided the opportunity to highlight the outstanding contributions of students of all ages and backgrounds to their colleges and wider communities. Each of the students had very different stories and that’s the point. Colleges play such a transformative role to the lives of its students. People like Carla Portmans, a mature student at Richmond Adult Community College. She’s a single mother who left school without much of an education. She is now changing her life by studying fashion and clothing at the college and is being an inspiration not only to her fellow students, but also her daughter. Or Hannah Cooper, from Amersham and Wycombe College. She had difficulties in interacting with her peers. Through college activities, which included leading an award-winning Young Enterprise team, she overcame these issues and she is now full of confidence and went straight into a job after leaving college. Other highly commended recipients included Bradley Carr, from Barnsley College, a young man who after being diagnosed with a brain tumour at 14 has worked tirelessly to overcome his impairments to continue with his voluntary lifesaving work, winning the Young Lifesaver of the Year at the 2015 Royal Lifesaving Society awards. Also Mustapha Mohammed from City College Coventry who after a severe road accident has rebuilt his life, representing students in the college on the Student Council as well as completing last year’s London Marathon. Callum Coles, from Cirencester College, was also honoured. He’s a young entrepreneur who developed an award-winning idea of a breathalyser incorporated into a car key called SoberDrive. Plus Connor Stevenson, from Bolton College, who transformed his life in college and has since completed an apprenticeship in teaching and learning specialist support. Jacob Lewis, from Coleg y Cymoedd was also honoured, after gaining four A*s in his A Levels and gaining a place at Cambridge University, despite being to all intents and purposes homeless. The awards also highlighted the work of students to help others. Such as Duncan Cathie who along with representing his fellow students as Vice President of the College Council, also raises money for Clic Sargent. His work began after he underwent major surgery and chemotherapy. James Grocock, from Central College Nottingham, was also honoured for his fund raising. As well as suffering from a number of conditions, he has pushed himself to complete his studies as well as fundraise for a Gambian village. Also honoured was Emily Mackay, from East Kent College, who despite suffering from a rare form of cancer, has been determined to carry on her cookery studies. She has also documented her progress through a blog – – linking the harsh realities of chemotherapy against her love of cookery. Ben Parsons, from Richmond upon Thames College was also honoured, for his work in developing disability sport in the college. He helped to develop a wheelchair basketball club and has trained to be a coach. Salford City College student Roua Adel Sami also received a highly commended. Despite arriving in the UK from Iraq with very English, she has excelled in science and has been an ambassador for the college’s science department. Nishall Garala, from Harlow College, the runner-up in the Student of the Year award was also honoured. He’s a truly inspirational young man who along with carrying out his studies, he has dedicated his time to improving the college and the local Harlow community. Finally, there’s Reece Taylor, the Student of the Year winner. Despite leaving school with no qualifications, he was determined to succeed. He enrolled at Derwentside College in a welding course and has excelled. He has completed an advanced apprenticeship with a prestigious engineering company and represented the UK at the WorldSkills competition in Sao Paulo in 2015, where he won a Medallion of Excellence for welding, despite breaking a bone in his hand. He has been an inspiring apprenticeship ambassador for the college, as well as his young family. We can never forget the impact colleges have on people’s lives. As Peter Kyle MP, who held the reception for us, tweeted: “Hosting 'students of the year' was a total inspiration. Each story underscored the massive value of education.” Find our about our Student of the Year award winners.