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National education awards celebrate inspiring individuals and outstanding organisations

Winners of this year’s Aspiration Awards have today (27 June) been announced.

Created by the educational charity and leader in vocational and technical learning NCFE, the awards, now in their fifth year, celebrate learners, educators and educational organisations across the UK.

Successful individuals include learners who have overcome significant adversity to continue their studies, a teacher who has changed the lives of some of the most hard-to-reach young people, and a member of support staff who has worked tirelessly to provide an outstanding college experience.

David Gallagher, NCFE Chief Executive, said:

“There isn’t just one definition of success. It could be going above and beyond to exceed expectations, overcoming obstacles to achieve the unexpected, or coming up with new and innovative ways of working to help others achieve.

“This year’s Aspiration Awards winners are examples of how individuals can overcome barriers to achieve and fulfil their potential – and how a fairer education system for all learners can only serve to empower inclusivity and choice.

“I want to congratulate everyone who entered the awards this year. They’re a reminder of the transformative power of education and why our core purpose at NCFE is dedicated to ensuring no learner is ever left behind.”

Also picking up an award this year is Loughborough College who claimed the prestigious Centre of the Year title. The accolade specifically recognised the Caring Services Department, who impressed the judges with their high-quality teaching and placement opportunities. 

The full list of categories, winners and highly commended include:

  • Learner of the Year
    • Winner: Juwairia Junaid, Leeds City College
    • Highly Commended: Catriona McIvor, Belfast Met
  • Against All Odds:
    • Winner: Oliver Poulter, Whitworth Community High School 
    • Highly Commended: Beth Ingoe, Blackburn College
    • Highly Commended: Freddie Vokes, APeducation Online
  • Apprentice of the Year:
    • Winner: Annabelle Palmer-Bennett, Aspire Training Team
  • Teacher of the Year:
    • Winner: Jack Turner, Everton Free School & Football College
  • Support Staff of the Year:
    • Winner: Denise Haney, Newcastle & Stafford Colleges Group
  • Centre of the Year:
    • Winner: Loughborough College

Oliver Poulter, winner of the Against All Odds category, was born with a degenerative eye condition that gradually leads to a loss of sight. Currently in Year 10, he is a keen performer and throws himself into his lessons, including dance, where he is never discouraged by his trips or falls.

As well as showing resilience in his lessons, Oliver takes this into his wider school experience, including physical education and Duke of Edinburgh activities. He uses a cane to get around school and a Teaching Assistant supports him in the classroom.

Oliver also receives extra tuition to learn to read Braille and has regular habituation lessons to develop his cane and navigation skills, including on buses, trains, walking routes and money recognition. Despite all the challenges he faces, Oliver’s optimistic attitude to learning has a positive influence on his fellow learners who love to work with him.

He said: “I enjoy just being me and being able to dance in front of other people. It was quite a young age, around five, I started dancing at the local dance studio and I carried on from there doing more and more.

“Even though I do have struggles with my eyesight, school has been really helpful. It’s not just about me, it’s about other people as well that are always positive towards me, and I appreciate people that are always there and that are positive.

“It felt nice to know that people are more aware of it now and that when my brother, who’ll be joining in a couple of years – he’s also blind – it will be nice to know that he’ll have resources and he’ll have more help around the school.

“It’s good to know that there’s more for people with visual impairments.”

Alex White, Drama and Performing Arts Teacher at Whitworth Community High School, said:

“Oliver is a pleasure to teach, and I think people underestimate how difficult things are for him as he presents himself so well. I’m absolutely delighted that he has been recognised with this award, which shows him that we really value his effort and his attitude to life. He is someone who we could all learn a lesson from.” 

For more information about the Aspiration Awards and to see full case studies of each winner, visit

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