Skip to main content

Six tips for entering the AoC Beacon Awards

10 June 2024

I never liked competitions at school, and I’ve been reflecting on why. It’s possibly because, except for a needlework competition where I was the only entrant, I never won anything.

Three decades later, I have come full circle and now love competitions. So much so, in fact, that I have recently implemented a renewed approach and focus on competitions at Nesoct. I am proud that already this year our creative media team has won gold at World Skills UK and one of our teaching teams is a finalist in the Pearson Teaching Awards.

When working at the award-winning Chichester College Group (CCG), I saw how competitions brought together teams and departments to strive for excellence and improvement and to share and learn from best practice.

In 2017, Chichester College won a AoC Beacon Award for students with learning difficulties/disabilities for ‘Theatre Inc’ and in 2022 won another award for mental health and wellbeing. My former colleagues who led this work were inspirational in their passion and commitment. Whilst the time to write an entry and host judges' visits was rigorous and time consuming, it was also hugely rewarding, motivational, and ultimately bought about a sense of pride in the wider college community.

So. my advice to colleagues thinking of entering this year’s AoC Beacon Awards (or indeed any awards) would be to go for it – and there are six tips I want to share.

It can take several attempts to get shortlisted and win an award, so it’s important to learn from each entry and iteration and ask for feedback to improve your provision. Whilst at CCG, it took four attempts at writing the bid for the group to win the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize, we weren’t giving up until the college’s exceptional work on furniture and upholstery was recognised. It was worth the wait and meeting the King as he presented the prizes was one of the proudest days of my career.

Learn from others
Look at who won previous awards you are interested in entering, and reach out to see if you can visit or find out more. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and share best practice outside the arena of competitions. I am very grateful to the fabulous Julia Heap at Hopwood Hall for sharing their inspirational work on a trauma-informed approach to widening participation for 16 to 18-year-olds from marginalised communities. This work was recognised in the most recent round of Queen’s Anniversary Prizes.

Identify your bid writer
Don’t underestimate the time required to write an entry or bid. Think about who your bid writing team is: who is your best writer, who has the information required? Try and ensure you can measure and report on impact both through statistics and testimonials.

Allocate some budget
Think about allocating some budget to awards. I’m not personally a fan of outsourcing bid writing but if you are lucky enough to be shortlisted it is great to be able to take students and staff who are involved to celebrate their success at awards ceremonies and celebrations. The are a brilliant way to network, meet other nominees and learn from others. They can also be great for a celebrity selfie if there is a well-known host or VIP guest.

Celebrate success and cascade within your organisation
Get the whole college behind any awards you are entering. This could be through internal competitions to select entries, sharing stories on social media and live streaming of awards ceremonies for those who can’t attend in person. In the last round of WorldSkills UK we held training sessions on the psychology of competitions, masterclasses from industry experts and daily updates on the competition through a WhatsApp Group and social media. We also had a huge party when they won.

Set up competitions with local colleges
Don’t wait for existing competitions. Instead, consider setting up your own. Working with the other Surrey Colleges #SurreyFE this year we set up a whole range of student-led competitions including football, carpentry, digital media, hair and beauty and a competition for SEN learners with an environmental theme.

So, with the Beacon Awards application process opening today (10 June) I would encourage all colleges to look at the categories, reflect on their provision/work and consider applying.

It's also worth looking beyond sector-based and educational awards. Colleges play key roles in the local economy and community and deserve to be recognised as such. I was proud that earlier this year Nescot won two Dynamic Awards as Employer of the Year and Community Hero.

To be recognised by your peers is humbling and can motivate staff across the college to keep pushing for excellence, and encourage learners to ask themselves: why not me?

Julie Kapsalis is the Principal and CEO, North East Surrey College of Technology (Nescot), and a Trustee of the AoC’s Chartiable Trust.

You can find out more information and enter for an AoC Beacon Award here.