FE was poorly represented in this year’s honours not because it was overlooked, but because the sector failed to submit enough nominations, says Dame Asha Khemka.

The FE sector was sadly lacking profile in the most recent new year’s honours. Some point to this as yet another example of how the sector generally lacks profile and positive reputation with government, seeing it as just another indication of how the sector will fare now that it is part of a combined Department for Education.

Our sector has unsung heroes in abundance

I don’t agree. As a member of the education honours committee, directly involved in overseeing and approving applications for nominations, we have been wrestling with ways to increase nominations from all sections of society.

There is a dearth of nominations coming from black and minority ethnic communities, from working class communities, from nominees with disabilities and from the LGBT+ community. This is not because there aren’t tremendously worthy recipients within these groups, or that there is some conspiracy afoot whereby thousands of nominations from these groups end up in the bin. The problem lies in the number of nominations received from them, and I suspect the issue with our sector is not much different.

Is it a lack of awareness about the process, or a perception that the honours system is elitist and exclusive? Or is it perhaps because not all sections in society are as good about shouting about their triumphs as others? I suspect it is a combination of factors that can be addressed.

The FE sector is rich with worthy nominees for honours. All of us can think of at least one person within our own institutions who has made a huge difference to the lives of the communities that we serve; who has gone over and above any reasonable expectation to ensure that lives are made richer through education.

Amazing things happen in our sector every single day. Perhaps we take too much for granted over the extraordinary things our colleagues do, until they become ordinary. These individuals are not just in our senior leadership teams. Honours are not just for principals and governors.

Perhaps we take too much for granted over the extraordinary things our colleagues do, until they become ordinary

Perhaps it is time we shouted about the unsung heroes within our own organisations. Our sector, more than any other, has them in abundance. Perhaps every single organisation should make their new year’s resolution to put forward one of their heroes for an honour this year. Let’s look beyond the confines of senior leadership and governing body teams for worthy nominees. What have we got to lose? Maybe then we will see the number of nominees from within our sector reflect the amazing work that we do.

How widely do we currently share the call for nominations within our own institutions? Is it something that goes no further than the senior management team?

With the best will in the world, senior managers can’t know every single thing that is happening in institutions; we should seek suggestions for nominations from a far wider group of individuals.

Not only will this enable us to develop a far richer bank of potential nominees for honours, but it will also help us better identify the organisational stars whom we need to nurture and develop.

Is awareness and support also an issue? How many of us know how to go about putting an honours nomination together? Further information and guidance is available at www.gov.uk/honours.

In the same way we support our sector through nominations for Beacon Awards, we should do the same for honours nominations. Perhaps those colleges which have been successful would be willing to share the secrets of their success with others. This is where representative bodies such as the Association of Colleges and the Education and Training Foundation can help. Let’s develop a bank of resources that can help the sector as a whole write successful nominations, so that the process itself becomes less daunting.

It is easy to point fingers, to see the lack of FE representation as yet one more example of a maligned sector. But let’s look within ourselves first, and at what we can do collectively to ensure that our sector is fairly represented in the number of nominations that are put forward. You never know, we might be pleasantly surprised.

 

Dame Asha Khemka is principal and chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College, and a member of the education honours committee