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The Sustainable Development Goals logo

Sustainability award for Luminate Education Group

Members of Luminate Education Group have had their sustainability credentials recognised through a Green Gown Award.

The group was part of a successful entry that showcased the collective impact of action by West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges’ (WYCC) seven members.

The bid outlined the scores of varied initiatives that each of WYCC’s partners have been undertaking to promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the 17 global targets adopted by the United Nations to tackle poverty and protect the planet.

The members’ work over the past year has spanned all of the SDG categories which include Climate Action, Affordable and Green Energy and Responsible Consumption and Production as well as Reduced Inequalities and Quality Education.

Environmental action across the group

Some key examples included:

  • Leeds City College, Keighley College and Harrogate College taking part in Planet Earth Games – with Keighley, which produced an indoor greenhouse and a suit of armour welded from waste metal, being crowned the national winner

  • Running an array of sustainability-focused courses, with 86 including specific net zero or sustainability content, across multiple fields including digital, business, motor vehicle and travel, food and drink

  • Harrogate College embedding sustainable practice across all of its provision, while consolidating its position as a green skills leader

  • Leeds Sixth Form College’s staff and students leading litter picking sessions and community clean-ups, using the gathered rubbish to create a sculpture at Park Lane campus

  • Engineering students visiting DRAX power station to learn about the sustainable biomass it now uses as its primary fuel and the company’s research into carbon capture technologies

Inspiring first steps towards net zero

Luminate Education Group’s Deputy CEO, Bill Jones, said: “Lessening the impact of the climate emergency is one of our top priorities and something we can only effectively do through collaboration with our partners.

“There is a huge amount of work to be undertaken to make all of the changes we need to become, as we have pledged, net zero carbon by 2035. So it has been inspiring to see the commitment, passion and professionalism of our staff and students – along with those of our partner colleges – as they’ve thrown themselves behind this.

“We’ve made a great start and winning this Green Gown Award is a testament to that and will motivate us as we forge ahead with more sustainability improvements.”

The power of collaboration – and estate-wide improvements

Luminate Education Group Consultant, Jennifer Miccoli, added: “We did a huge amount of sustainability work as part of the WYCC bid, which was led by Shipley College. The collaboration with other colleges, and sharing of resources, was great and enabled us all to pick up some fantastic ideas.

“Our efforts included everything from small student-led community projects right through to reviewing our group-wide processes, particularly regarding our buildings, so we can target what will make the biggest difference in terms of our carbon footprint.”

In terms of the group’s buildings, a new advanced management system has been set up across each site to record and drive efficiencies in the use of energy, water, and heating. A range of multi-million pound infrastructure / rebuild schemes are also in the pipeline, including at Harrogate College and Leeds City College’s Mabgate campus, where the work will be completed to meet the BREEAM (Excellent) sustainability standard.

The installation of solar panels at Leeds’ Printworks campus meanwhile, due to be completed by this summer, is expected to save some 370,000 tonnes of annual CO2 emissions. Leeds Conservatoire is also, thanks to a £1.6m award from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, on course to slash its carbon footprint by upgrading its heating and cooling systems, windows and lighting.

Students at University Centre Leeds

Scoring high on student satisfaction

Student satisfaction rates at University Centre Leeds (UC Leeds) and Leeds Conservatoire have once again been ranked as some of the best in the country.

UC Leeds outscored other local higher education providers – including Leeds Arts University, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University and the University of Leeds – in six of the seven categories in the 2023 National Student Survey (NSS).

Those included quality of course teaching (93%), learning opportunities (88%), academic support (92%) and assessment and feedback (just under 92%).

UC Leeds was ranked above the national average in most areas of the survey too, including on a newly introduced question about mental wellbeing support. Over 88% of its students, compared to 81.6% nationally, said they were happy with the information that was provided about such services.

Glowing feedback ‘a credit to our teams’

Dean of Higher Education at UC Leeds, Dr Sarah Marquez, said: “We are really pleased with this fantastic feedback, which is a testament to the hard work of our teaching and support teams. It is wonderful to hear that so many of our students have been pleased with the quality of our courses and instruction.

“It is particularly pleasing to see improved ratings in several areas where we were already scoring highly, including teaching and academic support. Satisfaction in learning resources, meanwhile, jumped by nine percent – from 72.5% to 81.6% – which reflects our recent investment in facilities like our fantastic new digital hub.

“Our goal is always to deliver high calibre education along with outstanding experiences, including talks from inspiring speakers and visits to outstanding workplaces, to our students.

“These wonderful survey results show how much such initiatives are valued and will spur us on to even greater things.”

Leeds Conservatoire students performing Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse. Photo credit – Abby Swain

Hitting the high notes

Leeds Conservatoire, meanwhile, achieved the highest scores of any UK conservatoire in two of the survey’s categories – for assessment and feedback, and organisation and management. The specialist provider of higher music and performing arts education also scored above the national average for conservatoires in all seven areas.

Those results were music to the ears of Leeds Conservatoire Principal, Professor Joe Wilson. He said: “We’re so proud of this year’s NSS results and are thankful to our staff for their continued commitment, and to our students for recognising the conservatoire with this fantastic feedback.

“Leeds Conservatoire has a national and international reputation for creativity and innovation, and for being a truly contemporary specialist teaching institution.

“Our staff and industry partners are at the cutting edge of their creative disciplines, and our students are encouraged and supported to explore their individual artistic identities.”

More than 339,000 students took part in the 2023 NSS to rate their experiences of higher education.

The Office for Students, which manages the survey, updated the format this year following a public consultation.

University Centre Leeds

Quality HE teaching recognised

Two of our members are celebrating achieving strong Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results.

University Centre Leeds and Leeds Conservatoire both gained overall TEF ratings of Silver this year which the Office for Students (OfS), which runs the scheme, grants when ‘the student experience and student outcomes are typically very high quality’.

The TEF aims to inspire higher education providers to improve and deliver excellence in teaching, learning and achieving positive outcomes for students.

Dean of Higher Education at University Centre Leeds, Dr Sarah Marquez, said: “This is a tremendous achievement and a true testament to everyone’s hard work.

“The quality of our teaching and our commitment to delivering a first class learning experience is at the heart of what we do, so this recognition is heartening.”

University Centre Leeds has just received its final TEF results, while the conservatoire achieved its Silver rating in September.

Conservatoire Principal, Professor Joe Wilson said: “Leeds Conservatoire is a specialist higher education provider, committed to providing an excellent experience and outcomes for its students. The Teaching Excellence Framework 2023 ratings reflect this and endorse the hard work and dedication of staff across the institution.”

All higher education providers in England with more than 500 undergraduates had to submit data for this year’s TEF.

Funding is desperately needed for ‘overlooked’ learners across the region

Alternative 14-16 provisions offer young people who don’t fit into mainstream school a unique setting for them to get the support they desperately need and make positive changes to their lives, with often fantastic results, writes Niki McKenna, Headteacher at Leeds City College’s 14+ Academies.

Despite this, these provisions, such as the 14+ Academies at Leeds City College, are few and far between. In fact, we are the largest in the country and the only one in Yorkshire, and are oversubscribed each year. 

We’re calling on the government to acknowledge the transformative impact these provisions have on the lives of our young people and invest sufficient funding so that we, and other providers, can help more 14-16 year olds – who are otherwise getting left behind. 

Many of our learners come from challenging personal backgrounds, and may have suffered from mental health issues, bullying or have special educational needs (SEN). Some parents have told us that we’ve been a ‘lifeline’ for their child, and that they may not be here today without the support they received from the academies.  

Almost 80% of our students, when joining, say they have, or are currently facing some type of mental health or wellbeing barrier. They’ve had their fair share of struggles. What’s more, an astounding 88% of young people report feeling unsafe at their previous schools.  

These are staggering statistics, and it highlights the crucial role we play in supporting and uplifting our young people. We believe it is our mission to show them that there is hope, that they are not alone, and that they can thrive. We also ensure that we are respectful of their opinions, and try our best to cultivate durable relationships. 

We recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary, and our journey over this time has been nothing short of extraordinary. We have seen over 1,500 teenagers come through our doors, all of whom came in with individual struggles and left with hope, determination and self-belief. This is because provisions such as ours provide learners with the tools to build up their resilience and develop an unfaltering belief in their own potential. 

We have seen young minds blossoming as confidence grows, allowing our students to reimagine their futures. The 14+ Academies has become a haven, a safe and inclusive space where teenagers can develop, maximise their potential and raise their aspirations, all whilst embracing their individuality.  

One of the key challenges faced by colleges that provide a provision for students of this age, is meeting the needs of learners of all abilities with a variety of activities that encourage independence. 

As part of this, 14 and 15 year olds who come to us are able to choose from a range of tailored educational pathways.  

The main offer is the 14+ Apprenticeship Academy, which provides students with the opportunity to focus on core GCSE topics whilst completing a vocational course from a number of subject areas. 

Some also enrol on one of the specialist English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) courses, or the P-TECH academy – which allows students to take part in an industry-guided course in collaboration with tech giant, IBM. 

With a class size of no more than 20, staff can understand how to get the best out of learners, with tailored teaching to match individual needs. It’s not just about academia though, our main focus is on developing well-rounded young people who believe in themselves and their abilities.  

Not only do our learners now feel safe, but they also feel listened to and supported, and frequently express their appreciation for the support they receive. We are here to give them the fresh start they not only need, but deserve.  

We are always delighted to hear that they find their time at the 14+ Academies more enjoyable and rewarding than their previous school experience – and, vitally, now care about their futures. 

Many of the students that we enrol have been out of school for some time and therefore home-schooled as an interim option. Since the pandemic, applications to our provision have skyrocketed, and we are doing all we can to try and meet those needs.  

We have 240 spaces in total for those who need an alternative learning environment to school. This means every year we are able to take 120 new learners in year 10. This year, we had over 400 year 10 applications for the 2023-24 academic year. Although we would like to offer more spaces, we simply do not have the funding to do so. 

This is a stark reminder of the countless young people out there who are still struggling, who are not getting the support they desperately need. Our anniversary is a reminder of our responsibility to advocate for change, because this simply isn’t good enough. 

We will continue to campaign on this issue so we can transform the lives of many more teenagers, because we believe each and every one of them deserves a second chance. 

Ann Marie Spry

Making the sums add up on the nation’s numeracy challenge

Maths is high on the current political agenda, with a focus on the young. But a lack of basic numeracy is blighting the lives of millions of adults, writes Ann Marie Spry, Vice Principal of Adults at Luminate Education Group.

Numeracy, the ability to understand how maths works in the real world, influences most aspects of our lives – from budgeting for shopping to mortgage choices.

Yet a shockingly high proportion of adults in the UK really struggle to deal with numbers – with a 2022 report finding that, in West Yorkshire, more than half – 52% – had numeracy skills at ‘entry level and below’.

This problem is limiting countless people’s lives, not least by closing off work opportunities across all kinds of sectors. Because a grasp of basic maths, as part of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skill set, is vital to so many jobs – and not just the ‘usual suspects’ like finance, accountancy or computing.

Our numeracy woes are also causing real economic damage which, according to research by National Numeracy, could be costing the UK up to £25 billion a year. A new YouGov survey commissioned by the same charity found that there are currently 15 million people in the UK with ‘low skills or confidence’ in maths – with lower paid workers, the unemployed and part-time workers worst affected.

So how do we go about reaching, and helping, those who need it?

The benefits of a functional approach

That is a question that the government’s Multiply programme, which invests in courses for adults that focus on functional, rather than theoretical, maths was set up to help answer. The scheme involves working with educational and skills organisations, like ours, to boost people’s confidence with numbers and gain qualifications.

We were delighted earlier this year to be awarded nearly £480,000 for two of our group’s members, Leeds City College (which was awarded £434,000) and Keighley College (£45,500), to deliver Multiply training in West Yorkshire.

This funding is enabling us to put on new courses for adults that are tailored to fit around their busy lives, while training more staff to teach numeracy.

These sessions are concentrating on topics like banking, borrowing and interest levels to highlight the practical benefits of numerical skills, and targeting adults who don’t have a Level 2 qualification – roughly equivalent to a GCSE grade 4, or the old C grade – in maths.

We hope that through delivering the programme we can help adults in all walks of life develop improved financial skills: from planning their meals, or creating shopping lists and budgets, to understanding taxes, pensions and interest rates. This should help them to feel more secure as they plan for the future by enabling them to feel more in control, and give them confidence to explore new challenges.

In a way our aim is to correct a historical wrong, as so many of our young people have left – and are still leaving – school feeling intimidated, and fearful, about numbers. That can have far-reaching, negative consequences throughout life: unless we reach out and try to remedy the problem.

Practical skills for the cost-of-living crisis

Our work is still at an early stage but we know, from other schemes around the country – including in Staffordshire – that Multiply courses are delivering very tangible benefits: not least by empowering individuals to cope with the many challenges that are being thrown up by the cost-of-living crisis, through managing their household budgets, bills and debts, better.

The government has been in the headlines this year for talking, as part of its wider push to update a whole raft of educational qualifications, about the importance of getting everyone to study maths until the age of 18. That idea was referenced again, as part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s proposals for a new Advanced British Standard, in the November 2023 King’s Speech, which stated that the new qualification would ‘ensure every young person studies some form of English and maths to age 18, raising the floor of attainment’.

That idea, given the link between numeracy and future life prospects, certainly has real merit – though proper funding will be needed to recruit and retain the maths teachers required to deliver it.

But we also, as a nation, have to make sure we don’t forget about the millions of people who have already been through the school system and yet don’t have the skills needed to help them fulfil their potential.

That is why the Multiply scheme, and the work further education providers around the country are doing thanks to its funding, is so important. Too many of our citizens, for far too long, have had to struggle due to a lack of number skills and this is costing them, and our economy, dear.

Whichever way you look at it, that just doesn’t add up.

This thought piece was recently published in The Yorkshire Post.

If we really want to deliver diversity, we need a Public Services T Level

Curriculum reforms are welcome, but we need to tread carefully to ensure there is a clear pathway for all learners, writes Gemma Simmons-Blench, Deputy CEO Curriculum and Quality at Luminate Education Group.

The government’s reasons for wanting to de-fund dozens of technical qualifications seem reasonable: to, as the Department for Education (DfE) has stated, ‘simplify the system for young people’ and create a ‘ladder up for all’.

We have now got an impressive range of T Levels available which offer an attractive option for those seeking to mix their studies with industry placements. While curriculum reforms are welcomed, worryingly there are some missing replacements for all of the NCFE, BTEC and other applied general courses which are set to be phased out by 2025.

This is one of a number of concerns about the proposals that demand urgent action, nationally. The challenge is to introduce these reforms in a manner that doesn’t disadvantage any students or lead to successful existing pathways into work disappearing.

In this regard, the DfE’s claim* that only unpopular or failing applied general courses, or those that overlap with T Levels, will be defunded (*As quoted in this 29 January 2023 article) deserves scrutiny.

Take the uniformed public services courses that are currently offered by further education (FE) colleges, as a prime example. These help students – often with very few qualifications – to develop the skills they need to progress and pursue a career in the police, fire service, army, prison service or ambulance service. All crucial sectors for our society, but all facing challenges in terms of recruiting or retaining staff and ensuring their workforces are sufficiently diverse.

Undermining social mobility

These courses, running from Level 1 to  3, provide a unique pathway for young people for whom a direct route into A levels – or indeed, T Levels, and their five GCSE entry requirement – is simply not available. And there is strong demand for them; at one of our group’s FE providers, Leeds City College, we currently have around 350, 16-18 year old students who want to join a uniformed service.

We also have some 40 adults who came to us to acquire the 80 UCAS points they need, through achieving a Level 3 qualification, to go on and join the police through Leeds Trinity University’s Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship, which is funded by the West Yorkshire Police apprenticeship levy.

The government’s planned reforms, however, provide no direct alternative qualification for learners who want to work in the uniformed services. Instead, the DfE has made arrangements so colleges can apply for funding to run, from 2026, a ‘small Alternative Academic Qualification (AAQ)’ in place of their existing course.

The expectation will be for these small AAQs to be studied in combination with two A levels, which will make this new pathway much less attractive – and in some cases, inaccessible – to many. This change would restrict choice and, nationally, lead to a significant reduction in the number of people attempting to join our uniformed services. 

That would represent a disastrous blow for social mobility.

Delivering a diverse workforce

Our uniformed services still have a long way to go to ensure their workforces reflect our society. This government report for the police in England and Wales, for example, showed that as of March 2022, white officers made up nearly 92% of the personnel.

In West Yorkshire, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Alison Lowe described racial diversity last year – when statistics showed that just 7.4% of the force’s officers were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background – as ‘woeful’.

Yet our courses are helping to address these shortcomings. Some 20% of our Level 3 public service students in Leeds last year identified as BAME.

The gender split amongst students is also helping to address the historical imbalance which the police – whose workforce in England and Wales is 66.5% male – still suffers from. At Leeds City College our public services students last year were 60% female.

A diverse and inclusive approach to recruitment also means welcoming applicants from poorer backgrounds, and 40% of our public service students at Leeds City College in 2022 came from some of the country’s most deprived postcode areas.

FE providers are doing the work, now, to create that diverse workforce which our public services have been crying out for – through courses which might soon be gone.

That is one of the reasons why we are, respectfully, asking Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to consider the creation of a public services T Level that will allow colleges to continue meeting the skills needed in these crucial sectors.

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