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Inspirational students recognised

11 September 2017

Working in a college it is easy to get bogged down with the challenges of a tight funding regime, English and maths resits, mergers and curriculum reform. But once again this year judging the AoC student of the year awards has reminded me why colleges are amazing places to study and work, providing opportunities for all. Where else would you find inspirational stories of people, young and old, from entry to degree level, all realising their educational ambitions other than in a college? The awards are open to 16 to 18-year-old students, adults and apprentices. The applications have come from colleges all over the country, large and small, rural and urban, sixth form and general FE. They covered students studying a variety of subjects at many different levels. There were examples from engineering, early years, sport, IT, creative industries, catering, construction, health and social care, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), A Level and foundation programmes. This year’s applications include examples of students who have achieved against the odds. Despite personal challenges they had made outstanding progress, produced prize-winning work, volunteered in and outside of college, undertaken peer mentoring, held down jobs and studied at the same time. Many had also looked after family members, fled their home countries, battled illness and or overcome a learning difficulty. Students were described as ‘exceptional’, ‘inspirational role models’, ‘hungry to learn’,’ determined’ and in one case a student who has a ‘heart as big as a bucket’. Their impact was not only on the college and its students and staff, but also the wider community and in some cases nationally influencing policy at the highest levels. Many of the students are official college ambassadors, helping to spread the message of the work that the college does to local schools and employers. Teaching can be tough; preparation, teaching, marking, covering a colleague, open events and parents evenings as well as dealing with the day-to-day opportunities and challenges of working face-to-face with people young and old. These stories provide the key to why we do it. Many teachers wrote of their personal pride in individual students and their achievements and how it made all their hard work worthwhile. As one personal tutor wrote of the student she was putting forward to the awards, ‘He is a real motivation and you think ‘’that is why I come to work’’. Catherine Sezen is the Senior Policy Manager for the Association of Colleges. The finalists of the 2017 Student of the Year Awards have been published. The winners will be announced at our Annual Conference and Exhibition in November.