Milton Keynes College won the top award at the Festival of Learning National Project Awards 2016.
The Offender Learning division of the college picked up the accolade yesterday (September 13) at a ceremony in Birmingham which showcased each of the nominees' commitment and hard work, highlighting what learning can achieve, both for an individual, and in wider society.
Over 50 regional and national Festival of Learning winners were selected for a range of awards across four categories; Individual, Tutor, Employer and Project/Provision.
The annual awards are held to celebrate outstanding individual learners, young adult learners, innovative projects and provision, and inspirational tutors.
Having entered the Festival of Learning Awards at regional level, the Milton Keynes College Offender Learning team were overjoyed to learn they had been selected for the National Project Award.
Milton Keynes College deservedly secured the award by having developed an innovative new approach, the employment academies, to work with offenders and employers in partnership to enable offenders to gain real sustainable jobs.
Academies are now established in many prisons, with Milton Keynes College working in partnership with a number of national employers including; Greggs, Boots, Premier Inn, Greene King, RMF Construction Services, Timpson, Interserve, Biffa and Aramark.
Employment has been shown to play a key role in reducing reoffending, which the Government estimates costs the economy £9.5 - £13 billion per year, yet for many people leaving prison, good, sustainable employment is hard to come by.
Deputy Director of Offender Learning: Innovation & Development, Maxine Bennett, explained that within the prisons, MK College Employment Academies are recognised by prisoners as a clear pathway to jobs
She said: "Although training and education is part of prison life, we had never adopted such an outward facing approach before. Gaining qualifications has been going on for a long time, but we are now listening to the skills and qualifications employers really want in their business.
"Prisoners are amazed that employers would want to employ them and are willing to give up their time to work in the prisons to make them employable. Employment Academies have become something prisoners aspire to be part of, and in that aspiration, encourage other prisoners to do the same.
"Currently in this academic year, 403 prisoners have been engaged in the Employment Academies. So far, 85 have gained full time permanent jobs."
Stephen Evans, CEO of Learning & Work Institute, which leads the Festival of Learning Awards said: "The Milton Keynes College Offender Learning Project has delivered significant innovation in supporting offenders into work placements with some of the UK's biggest flagship employers, helping them to critically break the cycle of reoffending". Learning and Work Institute has long championed the need to provide employment opportunities through the gate, helping offenders to reintegrate into society. This award celebrates the important work undertaken by Milton Keynes College in giving vulnerable adults a chance to turn their lives around".
Commenting on the award, Maxine said: "This is a real team effort and this recognition is for everyone who has been involved in the development and success of our Employment Academies.
"Our partner employers have shown true commitment to employing ex-offenders and our partners in the Prison Service have worked with us to make it all happen in secure establishments. It is also excellent recognition for the hard work and talent of our learners who rightly deserve the jobs they have now secured."