Our research with the Edge Foundation published last week demonstrated the positive effect participation in skills competitions are having on the lives of young people. This week, I wanted to highlight how many of our partner colleges are benefiting from their engagement with our work. Over 75% of entrants to our skills competitions are from FE colleges across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and we value highly our strong relationship with colleges.

Research by the University of Oxford from 2015 has previously identified a broad range of benefits for those colleges that participate in competitions. Competitions-related work exposes staff to new ways of operating and to new skills; provides the opportunity to network with others in their field; trains them in using the latest equipment and techniques in their field; and can be motivational and spark their enthusiasm. The research showed that being involved in competitions can enhance the quality of teaching and learning at a college. This is linked to the fact that when competitions take place outside of the confines of the college they require additional training to high standards, and students and staff bring back what they have learned to the colleges. Competitions test the quality of what colleges deliver and generally help them ‘up their games’ in their teaching and learning. Students then also benefit from higher quality teaching and learning as a by-product of colleges being involved.

We decided to put the findings of the University of Oxford research to the test by analysing Ofsted inspectors’ reports into FE college performance in England. It’s clear from the reports that have been published recently, that more colleges are waking up to the fact that competitions in all forms can add real value for students and tutors and that the methodology needs to be embedded to deliver improved overall results for college performance. Last year, 60% of colleges receiving an Ofsted report had competitions mentioned as part of their review.

What the Ofsted reports reflect is not only the increasing prevalence of competitions in college life, but their ability to drive positive results. The two most common references to competitions come under the categories of developing students’ employability skills and skill extension. This mirrors what our research with the Edge Foundation demonstrated. Through getting involved in skills competitions, college students are making an investment in their futures as they are developing the skills they will need for successful careers. They are also, through extending their existing skillsets in the here and now, achieving more by going above and beyond the requirements of their courses. And getting involved with WorldSkills UK competitions means pursuing skills to ever higher standards  – and sometimes to world-class levels, as seen by Team UK’s success in WorldSkills Abu Dhabi last year, with a top ten place in the medal tables.

The Ofsted reports shows that there is an ‘Outstanding premium’ amongst the very best colleges who enrol their young people into competitions. A college that is rated Outstanding (delivering the very best learning experience for students) is more likely to be so, if it offers skills competitions as part of its curriculum. There are therefore more Outstanding colleges offering competitions than those which do not.

This all reflects the University of Oxford research, our research with the Edge Foundation and what so many tutors and young people tell us: there is a virtuous circle from getting involved in skills competitions: games are raised, standards are improved, morale is lifted and excellence is celebrated. So the benefits are clear and while the use of competition methodology in colleges is common as a performance improvement tool – it is not as mainstream as we would like. So we are calling on more colleges to get involved in what we do.

We are continuing to work in partnership with the Association of Colleges to provide support to colleges to get the most from competition activity. We are also committed to celebrating the best in the sector, throughout our competition cycle and national finals and want to celebrate the achievements of the amazing professionals that make it possible through our Local Hero Awards. And you can read here about how colleges get the benefits from being involved in our work. If you are interested in improving your college performance outcomes – and potentially your Ofsted grade – working with WorldSkills UK could be part of the answer!

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