The Skills and Education Group’s latest annual conference took place on Tuesday 23 May at the Leicester Marriott Hotel.


The fully booked event attracted over 300 delegates, including staff from across the further education and skills sector, 17 sponsors and exhibitors, and a delegation of international visitors.


Focusing on the theme of Levelling Up, the conference included keynote speeches, panel sessions, workshops, and an exhibition.


Here are some of the main themes from the day.


Ensuring opportunities for all


The day’s conversation focused on how we ensure equal opportunities across the country and how the further education and skills sector can contribute to this. A range of speakers gave their perspectives, informed by their experience in the sector and beyond.


Professor Lee Elliott Major OBE, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, opened the ‘Levelling Up Communities’ discussion in the morning. Lee argued for a more equity-focused approach to education, with provision tailored to learners’ needs, but also acknowledged that “Education on its own can’t solve all society’s issues” and said that jobs being available locally is crucial to Levelling Up. You can hear more from Lee in this episode of our Let’s Go Further podcast.


Following a question from the audience, the panel discussed the challenges to Levelling Up created by devolution, with different approaches and funding models in different regions creating uneven opportunities and confusion for learners. Janet Smith, Principal and Chief Executive of Nottingham College, and Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Chair of the Glastonbury Town Deal, spoke about the positive work that they had seen in their local areas. Janet said that creating opportunities in Nottingham, classed as a deprived city, is especially important, and that “FE changed my life and I want to do the same for learners at my college.” Ben Blackledge, Interim Chief Executive of WorldSkills UK, argued that three things are key to Levelling Up – investing in teachers, investing in young people, and investing in partnerships – and spoke about his organisation’s work in each of these areas.

FE changed my life and I want to do the same for learners at my college.

— Janet Smith, Principal and Chief Executive, Nottingham College


Supporting individuals from all backgrounds


Our special guest for this conference was TV and Radio Host Will Njobvu. In the afternoon, Will delivered a keynote address on ‘Developing a more inclusive and just society’.


Will spoke about his life growing up, his own experiences of education, and his experiences of everyday racism when he entered the world of work. Will emphasised how staff in education play an important role in shaping the lives of young people. He also gave suggestions for how organisations can become more diverse – he said that if organisations are not as diverse as they could be, then staff should make an extra effort to make individuals from minority groups feel comfortable. He cited his own experience of one of his first media jobs, in which he worked in a diverse team and felt able to share his ideas, after feeling “silenced” in previous job roles. You can hear more from Will in this recent episode of the Let’s Go Further podcast.


Work to support minority communities was another recurring theme. The SEG Awards Level 1 Award in Workers’ Rights and Labour Exploitation and its impact was covered at a few points throughout the day. Elysia McCaffrey, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) spoke about how the qualification is helping vulnerable communities to understand their workers’ rights. Frank Hanson, Head of Prevention and Partnerships, expanded on this in a morning workshop on ‘Levelling up: achieving good employment for all’. Frank gave an overview of the impact made by the qualification, while Adina Maglan, Chief Executive of the Romanian and Eastern European Hub, shared how the qualification has been used to support Romanian communities in the UK. The Hub worked with the Skills and Education Group to develop a training course in Romanian using content from the qualification. Content has also been translated into Ukrainian, Hindi and Russian, while an easy-read version has been created to support SEND learners.


Insights from key stakeholders


The conference offered a great opportunity for delegates to hear from key organisations in the education sector – including Ofsted.


The day began with an ‘Ask the Ofsted Inspector’ breakfast workshop delivered by Julie Ashton HMI. Julie stressed that Ofsted want to see high-quality provision for the sake of learners: “We don’t want you doing it for us, we want you doing it for your learners and your apprentices”. She also said they like to see college principals “on the shop floor” – going into lessons and interacting with learners rather than relying on updates from their senior leadership team.


In addition, Paul Joyce HMI, Deputy Director – Further Education and Skills at Ofsted, was part of the ‘Levelling Up the Sector’ panel session in the afternoon. Paul emphasised further education’s important contribution to social mobility, saying it makes a positive impact on individuals, communities and the social fabric of the country. He also said that a well-planned curriculum, taught by exceptional teachers and supported by effective management, is what really makes a difference to learners.

We don't want you doing it for us, we want you doing it for your learners and your apprentices.

— Julie Ashton HMI, Ofsted


New connections and opportunities


The conference received positive feedback from delegates, sponsors and exhibitors.


The Skills Network were our Headline Sponsor. Sally Wenham, Product Marketing Manager, Janice Spencer, Head of Strategic Partners, and Erin Twigger, Business Development Executive, represented the company’s stand on the day.


Janice said: “We do a lot of work with Skills and Education Group and share similar ethics. We’re both focused on improving the standard of further education and supporting the needs of all learners. The conference enables us to meet like-minded people and find opportunities for the future.”


Sally added: “Further education is an important part of the learning journey. We’re super proud to partner with Skills and Education Group. Learners in further education are the forgotten learners, so it’s great to be working on different forms of provision to support different learners, and on increasing accessibility for all learners.”


James Earl, CEO of FE Tech, Registration and Merchandise Sponsor, said: “The Skills and Education Group Conference is a renowned industry-leading event with a reputable awarding organisation and a well-recognised brand. The event’s consistent growth and impressive attendance over the years made our decision to sponsor it an easy one.”


“The event has enabled us to project our brand and have invaluable face-to-face conversations with key industry people in a professional yet relaxed atmosphere. These interactions have already proven successful in generating new business opportunities for us while building valuable sector connections. Thank you for having us as part of the day.”


Alex Kennedy, Account Director at Lightcast, Digital Content Sponsor, said: “Colleges and training providers support us with our labour market data, so it’s always good to see them at the conference. The event is a great way for us to showcase our services, speak to current clients, and find new prospects.”

Further education is an important part of the learning journey. We’re super proud to partner with Skills and Education Group.

— Sally Wenham, Product Marketing Manager, The Skills Network


Find out more about our work


You can view more highlights from the conference on our Twitter and LinkedIn channels.


Though this year’s conference is over, we will soon be making plans for next year. Subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss the latest news from the Group. You can subscribe by entering your email address at the bottom of this page.


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