Students from Weston College sang and danced in tribute to Broadway musicals in a lavish commencement of the 2006 Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) Star Awards.

Further Education members from across the nation convened on the plush surroundings of London's "Evolution Centre" in Battersea Park, to mark this year's ceremony honouring the "unsung heroes" in the sector.

Chief Executive of the QIA, Andrew Thomson, said of the event: "With 170 nominees, this is the occasion where the event will touch so many lives. I am looking forward to see who the winners are".

Mr Thomson continued: "FE is such a diverse sector. Any qualification that you want to take in any circumstance"¦contributes greatly to the nation. [It is] such a big part of our lives. It matters so much to the QIA, to identify what is excellence in FE".

And recovering a marauding shoe mistakenly cast aside by the Weston College dance students, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell MP, noted: "The role that FE plays in the UK is a real success story. FE is more life transformational than any other sector".

Making a passing reference to the lifelong learning agenda and stressing the importance of "getting older people involved", Mr Rammell added: "The role of FE and the way the economy is changing is going to be fundamental. And for those who opened up FE for us, this is one of the most important roles in life".

Congratulating all involved in the process, Mr Rammell noted the recent scepticism in holding the ceremony: "Thank you to everyone who has been nominated. Congratulations to everyone, and thanks to the QIA. These awards should continue".

And co-hosting the evening with Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, was double Olympic gold-medallist Dame Kelly Holmes. She said: "When I was 14, like all youngsters, I had to find something to do. I eventually became a HGV driver. It was a good life but my ultimate dream was to become an Olympic champion".

Speaking on her time spent with the Army, she continued: "Army life, in a way, complemented the athlete life. But an athlete's life can be very lonely. You have to be the person who gives it a go. Athletics was my life. Self-belief is something that everyone should have "“ I"m only human. I run and try to be the best I possibly can".

Addressing the delegates, she added: "You guys give a lot of inspiration to your students".

"Whatever your role is, you make a difference. Even if you don"t win, you"ve already been recognised. And for the youngsters, I say "have a dream and a goal". I had many knock-backs, but my dream came true".

Below is a full list of the award winners, in order of their receipt:

Outstanding Further Education Practitioner: Maria Rounding [East Riding College]

Outstanding Adult and Community Learning Practitioner: Robert Randall [Adult Education in Gloucester]

Outstanding Work-Based Learning Practitioner: Steve Murphy [Plymouth College of Further Education]

Outstanding Work with Offenders: Steve Perkins [HMP Blakenhurst]

Outstanding E-Learning Practitioner: Chris Liddell [Clarkson Evans]

Outstanding Volunteer: Gary Axford [Riverside Centre]

Outstanding Subject Learning Coach: Dr Richard Spencer [Bede College]

Outstanding Member of Support Staff: Pam Harland [City College, Manchester]

Outstanding Support to Learners: Connie Brown [Ashton Sixth Form College]

Outstanding Support Team: Bury Adult Education Centre

Outstanding Leadership: Graham Verrall [HMP Dartmoor]

Outstanding Work with an Employer: Maggie Unwin [Work Solutions]

Outstanding Innovation and Inspiration: Bridget Ely [City of Bristol College]

Outstanding Work with Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities: Rob Bates [West Nottinghamshire College]

Equality and Diversity Special Recognition: Shamsol Hoque [Tower Hamlets College]

Learners Choice: Abdellatif Erraoui [Birmingham Adult Education Services]

Lifetime Achievement Award: Libby James [Worcester Sixth Form College].

FE News would like to congratulate the winners, nominees, and indeed the many hundreds involved in the sector.

Vijay Pattni.

What do you think about the QIA Star Awards?

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