17 May 2018

After months of meticulous organising, hard work and careful planning, the biggest and most important date in our calendar finally arrived yesterday…and for those of you who don’t already know, this was our highly anticipated annual national conference!

This year, our specially entitled theme was “Building Resilience in Further Education & Skills” and this time was an extra special occasion for us and an opportunity for real celebration, as it’s our first big event since we have officially become known as the Skills and Education Group.

Held at the popular, prestigious East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham (conveniently located within the grounds of the University of Nottingham), around 300 further education (FE) representatives- including delegates, speakers and exhibitors- came together to share ideas and learn from education and skills experts, through interactive seminars and workshops.

The day started as it meant to go on with a captivating opening welcome speech by our Conference Chair Jonathan Shaw, the Chief Executive of cross party think-tank Policy Connect, who introduced delegates to the day’s proceedings.
Atholl Stott, Chair of the Skills and Education Group, continued by briefly highlighting the challenges that educational organisations face. Our Chief Executive, Paul Eeles, brought the opening to an illuminating close by highlighting the aims and benefits of the conference including the opportunity for networking, and the provision of a platform to learn alongside like-minded people working within the sector. As well as changing emfec’s name to the Skills and Education Group, he also informed delegates that as a membership body supporting the development and delivery of provision, the plan for the Group is to expand membership beyond FE Colleges to Skills Providers. Furthermore, the vision to offer our services beyond the East Midlands, alongside our UK coverage of our awarding services through the ABC Awards and Certa was communicated.

After successfully setting the day’s agenda and giving people a real initial insight and framework into the many issues facing FE providers, attendees were given the opportunity to widen their knowledge by listening to key heavyweights within the FE sector. In particular, delegates could learn through joining three panel based focused talks: Building Opportunities for All, Building a Professional Pathway for Technical Education and Developing World Class Apprenticeships fit for Industry. Participants were also invited to address any pressing issues they had through Question and Answer sessions after each talk.

In addition, throughout the day, delegates could choose to engage in one of six interactive workshops: Mental Health in Further Education, Gender and Skills – Women in Engineering, Shaping the Success of English and Maths, Technology to Help Assessors and Providers, Making Maths Matter and Technology for Inclusive Learning. Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in an informative Q and A session from Deputy FE Commissioner, John Hogg and to hear a keynote Ofsted inspection update speech from Paul Joyce HMI, Deputy Director of Further Education Skills at Ofsted.

The Building Opportunities for All panel session, included speeches from CJ Burge, SOS Coordinator for St Giles Trust, Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at the Learning and Work Institute, Emily Chapman, Vice President (Further Education) National Union of Students, Robert Hunt, Chief Corporate Officer and External Affairs Director at Veolia UK, as well as from Paul Eeles. The session focused on highlighting that there is a need to consider learners who for whatever reason, are often not included in educational opportunities and need more ongoing intervention.

For example, Mr Evans spoke about the fact that tackling inequalities in access to learning is critical and that the role of employers and funding choices needs to be further looked at. Mr Hunt stressed that the labour market is in real need of good workers; many of which could be young people (who may have just come out of education) who can bring a lot of fresh ideas to the table. He also indicated that businesses are more likely to succeed if they encourage an effective learning culture.

Speaking of her attendance at the Conference and personal life experiences, which included her learning through Open University programmes, CJ Burge, said:

“It was an honour to be given a voice at such an important, collaborative event. I had the opportunity to share my own personal story of turning my life around after being imprisoned, which was achieved through determination and great educational support. Not all people are as fortunate as me though and aren’t aware of the pathways that may be available to them after falling into the criminal justice system.

“I am happy that my job enables me to work with both people with lived experience of the criminal justice system and young people at risk of offending, using education as a tool to prevent further offending. My hope is that there are a wider range of courses available to people in prisons and more help and opportunities available post prison.”

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive at the Federation of Awarding Bodies, Angela Joyce, Group Principal and Chief Executive at the Warwickshire College Group and Paul Eeles were the reputable speakers chosen for the Building a Professional Pathway for Technical Education panel session. Delegates were provided with a real insight into the different T-Level routes and encouraged to look at ways to build a professional pathway into technical education. The need for employer engagement and building public awareness were also highlighted.

The Developing World Class Apprenticeships fit for Industry panel session was chaired by FE Week’s Editor, Nick Lanford, which successfully highlighted the value of “world class” apprentices to FE providers, employers and learners themselves. The session included vibrant speeches from Euan Blair, Co-founder and Chief Executive at Whitehart, Jo Maher, Principal and Chief Executive at Bolton College, Ben Blackledge, Director of Education and Skills Competitions at WorldSkills UK and Karen Redhead, Principal and Chief Executive at Derwentside College. Karen Woodward, Deputy Director – Employer Relationships, Education and Skills Funding Agency ended the panel session by stating that we need high performing providers and employers to have world class apprentices.

The conference came to an emotional yet thought provoking close, with a “Be Inspired” speech from 7/7 Survivor, Paralympian and Inspirational Speaker, Martine Wright MBE, who shared her personal, life changing experiences, which was selflessly geared towards encouraging delegates to live life to the full and realise that their kind and supportive acts could have a major impact on the lives of learners.  In particular, Martine gave attendees the chance to hear about her special “power 7” positive life principles and goals.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in the organising of the event and to all who attended. Thanks also to our event sponsor, Ranstad, the leading international providers of recruitment solutions.