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University Centre Leeds shortlisted in multiple categories for the Educate North Awards 2023

We’re pleased to announce that, following a very tough process, we have been shortlisted in seven categories of the Educate North Awards 2023.

The awards celebrate best practice and excellence in the education sector in the North, highlighting the achievements and progress of universities and the higher education, further education and sixth form sectors.  

The finalists will find out how they have fared at an awards ceremony in Manchester on Thursday 27 April.

We were shortlisted in the following categories:  

  • Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM Initiative Award) – University Centre Leeds, Chemistry Academy 
  • Business Collaboration & Partnerships Award – HE/FE Sector – HE Engineering 
  • External Relations Team of the Year – WP and Outreach Team 
  • Community Engagement Award – HE/FE Sector – Creative Arts in the Community 
  • Student Experience Award – HE/FE Sector – University Centre Leeds 
  • The Sustainable Green Initiative – The Wellbeing Walkway 
  • Business/Industry Collaboration – HE/FE Sector – HE Creative Arts  

All of the award submissions outlined the University Centre’s commitment  to support its staff and students. 

Our nomination for the Sustainable Green Initiative category, for example, featured the ‘wellbeing walkway’ that we created in collaboration with RE:, Leeds City College’s sustainable products workshop.

The Business Collaboration & Partnerships Award – HE/FE Sector nomination delighted Tamas Kovacs, Programme Manager for Engineering at University Centre Leeds. 

Tamas said: “The collaboration and partnership between the HE Engineering team and businesses/industry has enabled the development of a modern engineering workshop room that is equipped with industry-current automation and robotics instruments. 

“This enables employees, apprentices, and potential employees studying at University Centre Leeds to experience and become familiar with the facilities and equipment typical of the industry.”

You can find out more about the different categories here.

Vocational education is the key to helping people access a career in digital and closing the skills gap in Yorkshire

There are huge opportunities within the digital and tech sectors with the demand for skilled workers in these areas growing in the region. There are also clear barriers to accessing these opportunities and without acknowledging these and finding meaningful ways to overcome them, the region’s ability to progress and remain competitive will become stagnant.

It’s well-understood that there are huge opportunities within the tech and digital sectors, especially as the regional demand for skilled workers in these areas is growing. However, a misconception around digital and tech jobs leaves many thinking that it’s not relevant or accessible to them. There are also clear barriers to accessing these opportunities and without acknowledging these and finding meaningful ways to overcome them, the region’s ability to progress and remain competitive will become stagnant. Yet the data shows that pretty much any job, in any sector, requires some level of digital capability and understanding. 

While digital courses can provide deep skills development in a range of areas, including software programming, digital graphics, web design, networking and digital forensics, there are also courses that can cover off the basics – helping people feel more confident to take on new or higher paid job roles.

In years gone by, building a career in digital and IT would have simply involved studying a degree. While this is still a valuable way of gaining your tech credentials, today’s education market offers a range of other options to build up your knowledge, increase your confidence through real-life experience, and score some major CV points. One of these ways is through vocational further education.

According to the Learning and Work Institute, 52 per cent of the population lack the essential digital skills required for the workplace. These include being able to set up professional networking accounts, manage digital records and financial accounts, use appropriate software to analyse data (for example spreadsheets) and manage information securely. This, coupled with the fact that almost 70 percent of jobs in the digital sector are in non-tech careers, like HR, legal, finance and sales, illustrates that we are moving into an age where you can no longer progress in a career without having basic digital skills.

For many, the idea of returning to education isn’t an option due to time constraints and expense, but Leeds City College is one of many colleges that offers evening classes, the ability to study online and the option of committing to studying only one day a week. Community centres are often where these courses are held, so people can learn important skills such as website development, coding and computer programming without having to travel too far.

Leeds City College, a member of Luminate Education Group, firmly believes that vocational education could unlock the potential of many when it comes to meeting the skills demand in digital and tech. And this isn’t just about 16-19 year olds, but adults too. So whether it’s laying down the groundwork for a digital profession, making a career change, or looking to reach your next level of expertise, there are multiple ways to access a career in digital. Or at least ensure you have the foundations to help your progress in an ever digitally-focused world. 

While apprenticeships and access to higher education courses are also valuable routes into a digital role without having to go to university, it’s important to know that not every course has to be purely focused on digital. Many courses available teach transferable IT skills, helping to build confidence and boost career prospects. 

Vocational studies are accessible options for those that don’t necessarily have the entry requirements for university. There are many avenues to prepare for a future job role by upskilling and reskilling, and an apprenticeship is a great example of this as they are ideal for leaning on the job and working with others in the profession. We’re already offering courses in digital marketing, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, to name a few.

Within 20 years, 90 per cent of all jobs will require some element of digital skills (Learning and Work Institute, 2021) so preparing the workforce of today to be ready for this is essential. For many there is a fear of taking on a digital or technical qualification through a lack of understanding or feeling that it’s not relevant to them. Further education colleges are perfectly placed to offer a breadth of options for any level of learner looking to access jobs within these sectors, or simply looking to improve their basic digital skills. Whether it’s working closely with businesses or breaking down accessibility barriers, Leeds City College is determined to tackle the digital divide in a bid to support the workforce of the future. 

Luminate Education Group is the first provider in the north to be awarded ‘good’ for its teacher training provision

Our higher education and degree apprenticeship provision is celebrating after achieving a grade ‘Good’ following an inspection by Ofsted last month. The group is the first provider in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber to receive this grade under the new framework.

Member of the group, University Centre Leeds, is the training provider for the range of Initial Teacher Education (ITE)* courses that are on offer to trainees.  It was recognised for its passionate and expert leaders who oversee the quality of the ITE curriculum, ensuring that trainees meet the requirements and expectations of professional teachers.

The report also noted that trainees are well supported and developed as teachers across the group and understand how they can promote equality and inclusion through their work.

Dr Sarah Marquez, Dean of University Centre Leeds said: “We aim to provide a fully immersive teaching experience, by giving our trainee teachers access to employment and professional development opportunities in the education and training sector, which is an  essential part of the education ecosystem. 

“We are committed to raising the bar on the quality of education and training provided to trainee teachers and this grade is a testament to the hard work of our specialised teams and mentors who make their experiences and entry into this vocation worthwhile.”

The apprenticeship provision, meanwhile, was praised for creating an innovative, well-structured and carefully designed curriculum that enables apprentices to meet the professional requirements set out to carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively.

Bill Jones, Deputy CEO at Luminate Education Group, said: “This is a milestone achievement for our HE and apprenticeship provision and shows the level of commitment and dedication by our expert team to provide a high-quality curriculum.

“Our ITE provision has grown significantly over the last few years and we now have over 90 students undertaking further education and skills training at Level 5 or above, showing the depth and breadth of our programmes.”

“Our governors also play an important role in the quality of education provided. Through our recently-formed board at University Centre Leeds, they are actively involved in the continuous development of this provision.

“We are also working collaboratively with key stakeholders and partners in the sector to tackle the current challenges to identify how we can attract more people to take on teaching as a profession.”

The group is among the first large educational establishments to have been inspected under Ofsted’s new framework, which puts a greater focus on the impact providers have on  a trainee’s development and training, as well as the overall impact of the ITE education offered. 
For more information about Luminate Education Group, visit Luminate Education Group

College provision for 14-16 can no longer be overlooked

Alan Mckenna

More must be done to support direct-entry learners in further education settings as the provision offers a critical lifeline for some, writes Alan McKenna

Around 10,000 14- to 16-year-olds study in further education colleges, yet this cohort is too often overlooked. Since its inception in 2013, provision for these learners has occupied a grey area between secondary and further education, meaning they have routinely been underrepresented in government policy and funding. Being measured against the Progress 8 framework is just one example of how these provisions are unfairly judged.

This lack of awareness is particularly problematic given the vulnerability of the young people who access these provisions. There is a huge misconception among educators and the public that such services are simply for those who are badly behaved, when in reality many of these young people are struggling as a result of complex situations, such as poor mental health or bullying.

These situations can create barriers to learning, which often result in young people failing to gain the essential numeracy and literacy skills they require for later life. The long-term consequences for young people without these competencies are significant, ranging from reduced employment opportunities to an increased risk of physical and mental health complications.

Ultimately, it’s our fear as educators that young people who do not find support outside of a mainstream school environment are vulnerable to becoming NEET – not in employment, education or training.

But the possibility of negative outcomes for this cohort only serves to highlight the importance of a sound educational infrastructure that properly supports their needs.

Research is key

Last year, the Association of Colleges (AoC) announced that, for the first time, they will be undertaking research that will explore outcomes for thousands of 14- to 16-year-olds in colleges across the country. This is something we have been desperate for. The hope is that this research will create a better understanding of what it means to run a 14-16 provision and the positive outcomes that learners can experience as a result.

In response to the research launch, we produced a video sharing staff, student and parent experiences of direct-entry college provision. Through sharing their stories, those at the very heart of the system make a passionate plea to policymakers to invest in a model that is working.

This research comes at a critical time for provisions such as ours. When a young person or parent is seeking an alternative environment to mainstream school, we know that they are already at risk of dropping out of education completely.

The problem is that there simply isn’t the capacity to deal with the current demand for these services, meaning that not every young person gets access to the help they need.

An alternative educational setting

Our students have gone on to achieve great things, whether that’s in employment or continued education, and this success is due to the model of education we have developed.

Our curriculum is designed specifically to support young people who have become disenfranchised with mainstream school, and our bespoke approach to how we work and engage with our young people is set up to remove potential barriers to learning and to cultivate an environment where students feel accepted and welcome. We’ve also partnered with local NHS service MindMate to integrate mental health support and mindfulness within the curriculum.

This approach to learning and engaging with others fosters a sense of security and mutual respect, providing a strong foundation to give young people the life skills they need to progress positively in life. Students and parents have also praised how the balance of core subject learning, vocational training and pastoral support has given learners a ‘head start’ and restored their passion for learning.

The issue we have now is that we need more funding so we can offer the same positive outcomes for more learners, in Leeds and nationally.

As chair of the 14-16 Special Interest Group, I am delighted that the AoC is leading this vital project in unearthing and informing the next steps for 14-16 provision in further education. We know there is a growing demand for something different to mainstream environments and we believe this model is it.

West Yorkshire college leaders take their case for extra skills investment to Westminster

Leaders from across West Yorkshire have been speaking with MPs at Westminster as part of a national campaign to bring skills to the forefront of the government’s agenda. 

Principals from Leeds City College, Leeds College of Building, Keighley, Bradford, Kirklees, Shipley and Calderdale colleges, joined over a hundred leaders from across the country in calling for fairer funding, a right to lifelong learning and support for local skills shortages. 

Following 12 years of declining funding for adults and young people, a 2022 report from the Open University and British Chambers of Commerce found that more than 68 per cent of SMEs are currently facing skills shortages, rising to 86 per cent in large organisations. 

Bill Jones, Executive Principal at Leeds City College, said: “Education, particularly further education, has been central to the skills agenda for some time, and the sector has been tirelessly campaigning in order to get the necessary support from government to successfully close the skills gap. 

“All the industries where skills shortages are being felt most acutely are bridged by Level 4 or 5 skills and qualifications, which are delivered in further education colleges. We will continue campaigning collectively to keep FE front of mind and to remind government of the important role it plays.” 

As part of the campaign on 1 March, the principals were involved in a panel discussion, organised by the Future Skills Coalition, that focused on how the lack of funding for colleges is having a direct impact on the sector’s ability to deliver the skilled workers the economy needs. 

Nikki Davis, Leeds College of Building Principal & CEO, said: “Colleges are vital in addressing significant skills gaps across the economy, including the next generation of skilled construction professionals. Research shows that around a quarter of a million extra construction workers will be needed by 2026 to meet growing demands on the UK sector, and to counter an ageing workforce. 

“Without additional investment in further education, we will not be able to fill critical shortages in priority areas – such as net-zero carbon emissions and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) – and deliver the diverse labour market the country needs.” 

According to the Learning & Work Institute (L&W), 9 million working-aged adults in England have low basic skills in literacy or numeracy, including 5 million who have low skills in both. 

Palvinder Singh, Principal and Chief Executive at Kirklees College, said: “Adult education is essential to local and regional skills needs and for the social mobility of thousands of learners. 

“Insufficient funding for our adult provision limits opportunities for adult learners to gain the vital skills to support the future workforce and economy. This provision is essential for economic growth and productivity.” 

For more information on the campaign, visit Mind the skills gap – Parliamentary activity | Association of Colleges (aoc.co.uk) 

Leeds Conservatoire Leads Session on Classical Music Inclusivity at ABO Conference

Leeds Conservatoire’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team led a session titled Is There a Seat for Someone Like Me? at the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) Conference.

The ABO represents the collective interests of professional orchestras, youth ensembles and the wider classical music industry throughout the UK, and the conference is its primary event each year. This year’s conference took place from 1 to 3 February at Opera North’s Howard Assembly Room.

The conference explored the experiences of underrepresented student musicians in the orchestral talent pipeline, creating conversations around what more the industry should do to welcome underrepresented talent, develop inclusive practice and tackle systemic inequalities.

Nick Burdett, Projects Team Manager and EDI Lead at Leeds Conservatoire, said, “Having the opportunity to create conversations that share the lived experiences of some of our underrepresented students with industry leaders in the orchestral sector is extremely valuable. It is vital for the next generation of musicians to have visible, relatable role models within the industry to develop a genuine sense of belonging.

“We know that there is still a long way to go to make sure that there is a seat for everyone, but by working together we hope to create the positive, systemic changes that all of our future orchestral musicians deserve to experience. We hope to continue the work with our students, staff and partners to influence inclusive practice across the sector as a whole.”

The session was a great opportunity for Leeds Conservatoire to collaborate with some of its partners, with Black Lives in Music, Opera North and Orchestras Live all supporting the facilitation alongside current conservatoire students and staff members. Together they led conversations surrounding ethnicity, gender and neurodiversity, raising the profile of Leeds Conservatoire’s ongoing EDI work and commitments, and creating conversations to support the changes we hope to see for our musicians who wish to enter the industry, with leading organisations from across the UK.

Roger Wilson, Director of Operations at Black Lives in Music, said, “This was a fantastic session and brilliantly led by the conservatoire’s EDI team, who maintained sensitivity at the centre of this very important narrative. Bringing diverse voices into one space can only pay dividends. The effect is all the more powerful when those voices have so much lived experience.

“The compelling and personal stories that were shared, facilitated a visceral connection with the session content for those in the room. Having this opportunity to listen, talk and share is important in order to be reflective, learn and to be active in the campaign for real representation and establish safe and inclusive spaces in our sector.”

Becky Smith, Head of Higher Education Partnerships at Opera North, added, “As someone who works for an organisation which supports talent development in our sector and actively engages with student musicians through our partnership with Leeds Conservatoire and other institutions, the session provided a space for thoughtful reflection and discussion on what we are doing and could be doing better to ensure inclusive practice is embedded in all our activities.

“The scenarios discussed, lived experiences shared and positive suggestions made for improvement were really valuable and will hopefully inform and lead to some positive change as we move forward.”

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