Being named Trainer of the Year in the 2018 Vocational Qualification (VQ) Awards for Wales was one of the proudest moments in Tom Jones’ educational career.
For the inspirational lecturer from Cardiff and Vale College, who has overcome a spinal injury to develop a rewarding teaching career, it was national recognition and an endorsement that he was doing a good job.
Now 32-year-old Tom, who lives in Barry, is encouraging other trainers, learners and employers to enter the 2019 VQ Awards.
“I wasn’t expecting to be nominated for the award let alone to win it, but it was a massive boost in confidence,” he said. “Now, when we are discussing qualifications and opportunities, my voice has weight and is heard.
“Just to be nominated for a VQ Award means that your employer thinks you are doing a good job worthy of a national accolade. It’s a way of other staff members and management recognising the work that you do and the contribution that you make.
“Winning a national award wasn’t on my personal bucket list because I never thought I was capable, but it was one the proudest moments of my educational journey. However, my greatest reward is watching my students develop.”
Now Tom, who is dyslexic, is preparing for UK recognition, having been shortlisted for the Further Education Teacher of the Year in the TES Awards in March.
His ambition is to establish an industry recognised and endorsed vocational military and public services training establishment to provide opportunities for vocational students similar to those given to the brightest academic students at Welbeck Defence 6th Form College.
“Just because we receive a ‘C’ grade in our Maths and English doesn’t mean we can’t be vocational leaders,” said Tom. “I want to ensure that our best vocational students have the best experiences, just like the academic students that go to Welbeck College.”
Tom champions experimental learning, often using body armour, protective equipment and army uniforms to get over a message. Many of his 14-16 age group students may not have seen a school classroom for months, so engaging them in learning often requires a different approach.
He guides students through Cardiff and Vale College’s Junior Apprenticeships, BTEC Levels 2 – 3, A Levels and HNDs in Public and Emergency Services. Alongside the lecturing, he is contingent commander of the college’s new Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and leader of the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme.
As an example, by the time the Junior Apprentice students finish their education with Tom, they have often achieved the equivalent of four GCSEs at C grade in Public Services, a Duke of Edinburgh Award and Duke of York Award, a suite of Microsoft qualifications and completed two years in the CCF.
“These students are often diamonds in the rough and it just takes buy in from them to succeed,” he said. “They just need to learn the value of their own worth.”
The fact that he has gone through his own dark days helps him relate to his students. A damaged spine whilst training for the Royal Air Force left him in a wheelchair, with a history of operations and deep depression.
Tom’s lectures are underpinned with trust, equality, humour and careful planning. Four years in the Army Reserves instilled discipline which he takes into the lecture room and 90% of his students’ progress to further learning.
The VQ Awards are organised by the Welsh Government in partnership with the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), ColegauCymru / CollegesWales and Qualifications Wales. The Welsh Government’s funding has support from the European Social Fund.
The awards, which have categories for employers, trainers and intermediate and higher learners, are designed to reward individuals and organisations for their commitment, hard work and achievements.