Preston’s College becomes a finalist in the prestigious Association of Colleges Beacon Awards

Preston’s College staff and learners are celebrating, after becoming finalists in the prestigious Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Awards, shortlisted in the Support for Students category, an award sponsored by RCU.

The awards, now in their 25th year, offer seven categories that collectively highlight and celebrate the best and most innovative practice amongst UK further education (FE) colleges nationwide.

Showcasing examples that go above and beyond ‘the norm’, Preston’s College has been shortlisted for its pioneering response to changing migration patterns in the Preston area, supporting increasingly vulnerable English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners and cementing the college’s position as a College of Sanctuary in the area; recognition for the comprehensive learner support systems available at the college and the positive impact those systems make on the lives of asylum seeker and refugee learners.

The ‘Making a Difference in the Lives of our ESOL learners’ project, demonstrates a holistic approach to improve integration, education and progression opportunities for ESOL learners, welcoming learners from different nationalities and cultures into the college and local area. Recognising barriers to learning, adapting college support mechanisms to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners and delivering outstanding and relevant learning in the classroom that celebrates diversity and mutual respect.

Through sustained engagement with local authorities, voluntary organisations and community groups, Preston’s College has sought to generate greater social inclusion and greater public awareness of the variety of challenges faced by underrepresented groups and make a difference to the lives of its ESOL learners.

Speaking about the project, Vivien Caparros, Head of School: Skills Development, ESOL and Community Learning said:

“The Beacon Award shortlist evidences the college’s desire to support all of our ESOL learners. Adopting a learner centred approach, the increase in asylum seekers and refugee referrals to the ESOL provision at Preston’s College meant the team needed to adapt current and develop additional measures to provide this very vulnerable cohort of learners with additional support to overcome barriers to learning and integration.”

Continuing, she added:

“Additional measures included quickly developing a relevant whole package of support, incorporating lunch, bus pass and childcare support, alongside counselling and application form assistance, where required. Links with a variety of public and voluntary organisations across the city, were also developed, alongside other valuable but discreet provisions. Employability, British values pastoral support and independent living themes also feature across all of the taught provision, alongside guest speaker presentations for younger learners.”

Preston’s College has produced an array of learner successes, including ESOL students who have since progressed onto university level study and into full-time employment.

Recognising the outstanding reputation of the college’s ESOL provision, the value of the programme and the strength of breaking barriers to community integration, the programme, accessed by over 800 learners each year, has been highly successful in removing achievement gaps between different groups of learners, with all learners achieving equitably regardless of race, ethnicity and learning difficulties.

In addition to taught activity, November 2019 saw Preston’s College work in collaboration with Lancashire County Council and Department for Work and Pensions to host a ‘Hidden Talent Event’; a unique opportunity for local businesses to explore the added value and high levels of skill and talent that refugees can bring to individual organisations, opening up future employment and voluntary opportunities for ESOL learners in the local area.

Dr Lis Smith, Principal and Chief Executive of Preston’s College commented:

“I am delighted that we are a finalist in this year’s annual AoC Beacon Awards, in a category which truly reflects our vision and values and places learners at the heart of everything we do. The ESOL team continue to work tirelessly to seek opportunities to support the asylum seeker and refugee community, alongside the wider ESOL community, not only improving their language learning but also raising their aspirations and supporting them as they settle into local communities.

Preston’s College Executive Leadership Team and Governors are fully committed to supporting an inclusive community provision. Widening access and participation is a fundamental element of the College Strategy and we are passionate about ensuring that learners from under-represented groups and those from disadvantaged backgrounds have fair access to education.”

The team will find out if they have become an AoC Beacon Award Winner at a Parliamentary Reception, held at the prestigious House of Lords, on 21st April 2020.

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