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AoC Beacon Award 2023/24 winners announced

27th February 2024

Ao C Beacon Awards

The winners of the 2023/24 Association of Colleges Beacon Awards have been announced in a prestigious ceremony in Westminster.

The awards celebrate the best and most innovative practices among UK further education (FE) colleges, and this year the competition was as fierce as ever.

From industry-leading green skills programmes and bespoke mental health interventions to sustained support for refugees and effective employer engagement, this year’s winners are shining examples of the impact colleges can have on students, communities and wider society.

David Hughes, chief executive of Association of Colleges, said: David Hughes, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, said: “I want to say a huge thank you to all the colleges that applied for Beacon Awards this year and the excellent practice demonstrated.

“Shining through the many challenges of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, colleges and their staff show through these awards just how hard they work, skilfully and expertly to support learners achieve their ambitions and realise their talents. It is truly inspiring that regardless of the challenges colleges remain innovative and dedicated to providing the best support to students and employers and their communities.

“At AoC, we are incredibly proud of the impact colleges have, and I want to express my congratulations to all of our winners, and also to those colleges who met the rigorous and tough Beacon Standard.”

Robert Halfon, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, said: “Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Beacon Awards. As we witness the expansion of high-quality technical training offers, including apprenticeships, T Levels and Skills Bootcamps, colleges are essential in delivering exceptional teaching and the best outcomes for their students.

“Our country’s colleges are truly some of the best, with around 93% rated good or outstanding by Ofsted last year. The colleges recognised in these awards are leading the way, demonstrating how innovative skills programmes are providing more and more people with a chance to climb the ladder of opportunity towards high-skilled jobs fit for the future.”

Full list of winners

The Inenco Award for Education for Sustainable Development: Suffolk New College
Suffolk New College delivered a college-wide green skills programme with sustainability embedded in enrichment projects, capital investments and curriculum development to transform teaching practice and project-led innovation. Both learners and staff have a sustainability mindset, and there is a strong culture of project-based entrepreneurial ambition and a willingness to suggest and try new approaches and initiatives.

The Careers & Enterprise Company Award for Excellence in Careers and Enterprise: Middlesbrough College
Providing students with real-life insight into the world of work is at the heart of Middlesbrough College, and regular employer engagement is effective, up-to-date and impactful for students. Through the advisory boards, employers shape the curriculum, identify any gaps, and ensure all learners have the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.

The RCU Award for Support for Students: Bridgwater & Taunton College
Bridgwater and Taunton College has developed innovative study programmes to offer individuals with additional needs or learning difficulties entry to the workplace, including at nuclear power plant construction site Hinkley Point C and the Avon and Somerset Police. With small and business offering schemes, the programmes are fostering inclusivity, dispelling preconceptions, and contributing to a more diverse Somerset workforce.

The City & Guilds Award for College Engagement with Employers: New College Durham
As the north east region faces high unemployment rates, New College Durham is forging partnerships with national and regional businesses, educational institutions and regional bodies to benefit students, employers, and the economy. Their strategic plan, focused on stakeholder engagement and collaboration, is creating a curriculum that meets skill needs and maximizes opportunities.

The NOCN Group Award for Mental Health and Wellbeing: Barnsley College
With waiting times for assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions significantly impacting the Barnsley College students, staff introduced a bespoke solution to tackle a mental health crisis, WRAP. Developed with MIND, the programme focuses on adapting a non-clinical but proven programme to support individuals from low-level and short-term wellbeing through to significant mental health disorders.

The Jisc Award for Effective Use of Digital Technology in Further Education: Hull College
Hull College is leading the way on support for refuges and asylum seekers. The implementation of Microsoft Translate has removed language barriers and empowered more than 1000 ESOL students to successfully engage in education and access key services. This technology is used across college and helps students integrate into college life, enhancing their sense of belonging.

The Edge Award for Excellence in Real World Learning: Education Partnership North East
Education Partnership North East’s Cultural and Social Capital project drives excellence in the curriculum in partnership with employers. The spotlight has been on problem solving in the real world, preparation for industry inclusion, industry expert masterclasses and an array of live briefs and commissions. Students work has been showcased through performance, exhibitions and a digital expo.

The AoC Award for Widening Participation: Gower College Swansea
To demonstrate their commitment creating a supportive and accessible apprenticeships for all, Gower College had a comprehensive overhaul of their approach to identify and support apprentices with disabilities and additional learning needs. Efforts to raise awareness of apprenticeship opportunities and offer tailored support to individuals with disabilities have paid off with increased participation and success of apprentices with disabilities.

The AoC Award for Excellence in Governance: East Kent Colleges Group (EKC Group) and Barnsley College
East Kent Colleges Group leads on developing the economic and social prosperity of the diverse communities they serve. Their deep-rooted community leadership model devolves accountability and responsibility for local education to local college board level, which in turn, supports those with SEND, those in care, unemployed adults and offenders as well as 16 to 18-year-olds with low prior attainment.

At Barnsley College, governors are dynamic actors in the work and life of the college. In ‘Deep Dive’ groups, they drill data and evidence to suggest solutions, and also take part in informal creative sessions focussing on strategy. With increased visibility and transparency has come better accountability and greater trust between the board and college leaders.