22 October 2020

Ruth Spellman, former Chief Executive of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the TES FE Awards evening held online on Friday 16 October.

The award, sponsored by the Skills and Education Group for the third year running, recognises an individual who has made a significant contribution to further education above and beyond their own academic interests.

Ruth became the first ever female chief executive of the WEA when she was appointed in 2012. In this position, she worked tirelessly to reverse the decline of adult learning, forming partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, the University of Warwick and the Open University in order to achieve this.

This was not her only groundbreaking role as she was also the first woman to be appointed chief executive of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, a platform she used to champion diversity in the industry.

Throughout her life, she has worked in positions that have enabled her to champion lifelong learning. She led the HR consulting practice at Coopers & Lybrand before becoming HR director at the NSPCC, modernising the organisation’s approach to staff development. She also played a key role in developing the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education and is a member of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education.

Even after retiring from the WEA in 2019, she has continued to serve the further education sector, being on the boards of the charity Adviza, the Open University and the Learning and Work Institute.

This is not the first time Ruth has been recognised for her dedication to the sector, as she was awarded an OBE for services to workplace learning in 2007.

Paul Eeles, Chief Executive of the Skills and Education Group, offered his congratulations via a video message.

Skills and Education Group members also among the winners

Three of the Group’s member organisations also received awards.

The Grimsby Institute received the ‘Best teaching and learning initiative’ award for the running of Estuary Student TV – their own in-house, industry-standard TV channel, which provides learners with real-life experience of working in the television industry.

Inspire won the ‘Adult and community learning provider of the year’ award. The Nottinghamshire-based service offers a broad range of progression opportunities for both 16-19 learners and adults. In 2018-19, 87 per cent of their learners progressed from Access to HE courses to university study, while in GCSE maths, 56 per cent of students obtained a grade 4 pass or better last summer compared with 22 per cent nationally.

The Bedford College Group had an excellent night, receiving two awards. Firstly, they were recognised as having the ‘Professional services team of the year’ for the work of their building projects team on redeveloping the Group’s campuses, allowing provision to be expanded and enabling thousands more learners to access high-quality education.

Not only that, but the Group also won the prestigious ‘FE college of the year’ award. The Group is top of the Eastern region for overall achievement, was judged to be “good” in all areas in its 2019 Ofsted report, and is “outstanding” in terms of financial health, as confirmed by the Education Skills and Funding Agency. 

Congratulations to all of the award winners on what was a celebratory evening for the further education sector.