Education Partnership North East’s support for students, use of digital technology and governance has been commended in a trio of award categories by the Association of Colleges (AoC). 

The college group, which includes Hartlepool Sixth Form, Sunderland College and Northumberland College, received praise for its high level of innovation, impact and sustainability in three categories of the AoC’s annual Beacon Awards – Support for Students, Effective Use of Digital Technology and Excellence in Governance. 

Offering colleges the opportunity to highlight the inspiring and innovative ways they support students, staff and communities, the awards represent the best approaches to meet the skills needs of local employers and the career aspirations of their students. 

Sunderland College’s Sports Coaching project was recognised in the Support for Students award for its inclusivity and activities tailored to students’ diverse needs, which enabled individuals to develop skills and experiences to support their successful progression to employment or independent living. 

Identifying a gap in the college’s SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) curriculum for students to take part in sports and be more active, Sports Leaders from a range of Sports Coaching and Development courses delivered fun and challenging weekly sessions and activities to learners who developed their motor skills, balance and coordination as well as encouraging social interaction, teamwork, communication and confidence. 

The three-month project involved comprehensive planning and regular feedback to shape delivery, resulting in overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Directions team, their students, parents and carers. Students not only improved their mental health and wellbeing, but also social interaction skills and became more engaged with campus life.  

For Sports Leaders, the programme provided the real-work experience and tools needed for them to progress to employment and further study. 

From the 2022-23 academic year and beyond, the Sports Coaching project will expand to involve Higher Education sports coaching students who will also deliver sessions to those with SEND across the EPNE group. 

Linda Longworth, Personal and Social Development Tutor, said: “Our Directions students have benefitted so much from the project; they have participated every week and have really enjoyed the sports and activities. They have improved their communication skills, made new friends across college and developed a bond with the Sports Leaders who they look up to.  

“A lot of parents are keen for their children to learn about healthy eating and be involved in sport and because of the project our students are now taking part in sport outside of college which is fantastic.” 

In the Jisc Effective Use of Digital Technology in Further Education category, Sunderland College demonstrated how its state-of-the-art Immersive Space at Bede Campus has improved the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, developed digital skills and enriched the curriculum through innovative uses of technology. 

The new teaching and learning environment – supported by the T Level Capital Fund – is a fully integrated seven-metre cylinder with full wraparound wall and floor projection creates shared immersive VR environments for students studying a range of T Level and vocational subjects including health and social care, construction, engineering and digital production, while also supporting the delivery of digitally informed therapies for young people with special educational needs and disabilities. 

Similar immersive spaces will be installed across the group’s campuses, including at Northumberland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form. 

Dan Fitzpatrick, Strategic Lead Digital Skills and Learning Innovation, said: “Our Immersive Spaces have allowed our teaching staff to transform their practice and provide better learning experiences, improving participation, retention and aspirations to our students who have embraced the immersive technology. 

“We are delighted to be named as a commended college for digital technology in the AoC Beacon Awards and look forward to hearing the announcement of the finalists.” 

The critical role undertaken by its boards, governors and governance professionals has seen EPNE shortlisted in the AoC Award for Excellence in Governance. The group evidenced through its Governance Improvement Programme how governors are promoting high expectations for students and staff, providing strong leadership, ensuring inspirational teaching, and learning.  

With a focus on impactful, value-added governance with the goal of transforming quality of education, student experience and staff satisfaction, the programme utilises a unique, agile approach to governance through innovative and best practice ways of working to shape and deliver strategy to the college group. 

Christine Stretesky, Head of Corporate Governance and Policy, said: “We are absolutely delighted that EPNE has been recognised as a commended college in the Beacon Awards category for Excellence in Governance. 

“Our submission highlights how we have strived to improve the quality of education, student experience and staff satisfaction since EPNE was formed. 

“It’s a huge recognition of the hard work of our Governors, senior leaders and staff who drive change for the benefit of our students, staff and communities.” 

The finalists and award winners will be announced at the AoC’s annual conference in December and will be used to raise awareness of colleges’ far-reaching contribution to educational skills policy and economic and social development. 

In a statement, the AoC said: “We are excited to announce the commended colleges for the 2022/23 Beacon Awards. Assessors recommended those applications that should be commended for their practice in each of the award categories, having demonstrated a high level of innovation, impact, and sustainability. 

“Congratulations to the colleges that have met the AoC Beacon Standard 2022-23.”

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19