From education to employment

Why we must all play our part in celebrating the sector

David Gallagher

NCFE’s Aspiration Awards have helped shine a light on the successes of learners, apprentices, educators, support staff, and educational organisations across the UK. With only days left to send in nominations for this year’s celebration, David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE, reflects on how much the awards have grown and why the sector must be its own champion.

There isn’t just one definition of success. Throughout NCFE’s almost two centuries in this sector, we’ve seen it in many forms – from going above and beyond and exceeding expectations to overcoming obstacles and achieving the unexpected, as well as finding new and innovative ways of working to help others succeed.

This year, our awards are extra-special, as we continue to celebrate NCFE’s 175th anniversary throughout this academic year.

Where it all began

Starting modestly with only two categories focused on our V Cert learners and their centres, we quickly expanded the awards to six categories for anyone involved in delivering or studying NCFE qualifications.

Our first-ever Learner of the Year winner was Emma Owen from Everton Free School. After a tough start and expulsions from previous schools, she had re-engaged with education to help reach her potential. Her resilient and determined nature set her on course for a bright future.

We caught up with Emma three years after her win, when she was in her third year of college and had received offers from all three universities she applied to but was aspiring to begin a degree apprenticeship later that year.

Continuing to celebrate success

Fast-forward to 2023, and the winner of the Learner of the Year category was Harry Disney, a T Level Health student at Loughborough College. Described as a “hardworking individual, who gives his all to everything he does”, he demonstrated his passion for the health sector and helping others to achieve. 

Harry started volunteering with St John’s Ambulance when he was 16, regularly giving up his time to provide first aid cover for large events in and around Nottingham, including football matches, marathons, and music events.

His involvement with St John’s Ambulance reinforced his desire to pursue a career in emergency medicine. Harry later trained as a volunteer First Responder for the Ambulance Service and is frequently first on the scene to 999 calls, reassuring the patients and making them comfortable until the paramedics arrive.

Using his volunteering experience, Harry has been able to share his knowledge and experience with his peers and is an excellent role model and mentor in practical sessions. He has led sessions in resuscitation and helped his classmates to understand practical elements of the qualification. 

Harry said: “Volunteering outside of college allows me to bring the knowledge I’ve learned on the job into the classroom. The future definitely looks bright after finishing the T Level in Health because it’s allowed me to get to the next stage of education which is, in turn, enabling me to do the career I’d like to do.” Watch his story here.

Bigger and better

One of our newest categories is Apprentice of the Year, which we introduced in 2022. Last year, 16-year-old Christopher Ademola, from Salford City College, won this accolade after being inspired by his mum and moving from Nigeria to work in the care sector. 

After starting an Adult Care Worker apprenticeship at Wigan Council, Christopher went on to set up a YouTube channel – UNIFIED OSCE – alongside his mother where they share knowledge and guidance, such as around working with Alzheimer’s patients. 

On winning the award, Christopher said:

“I’ve got big plans. To me, there’s nothing more satisfying or rewarding than helping people to regain or maintain their ability to perform an activity. It’s liberating and it’s life-changing.” Watch his winner story here.  

Reflecting on their first meeting, Karen Bradshaw, Service Manager at Wigan Council, said: “When I first interviewed Christopher for an apprenticeship, he stood out from the crowd.  

“He told me he had always looked out for others. His passion was to make people happy, and he wanted to make a difference to people’s lives. He told me that anything worth doing in life must benefit the people around him. His smile and kind nature shone through the whole time.”  

Get involved

The application window for NCFE’s 2024 Aspiration Awards is almost closed but you can still nominate until Friday 22 March. More details on the categories, links to the online application form, and terms and conditions can be found by visiting here

The stories I’ve mentioned and all the winners and nominations from the last six years are the reason we all work so hard collectively to deliver for learners. Let’s celebrate success together and champion the incredible work happening in technical and vocational education across the UK.

By David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE

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