It’s been quite a week for further education.
On Sunday night, the Liberal Democrats promised every adult in England £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their life, in its “skills wallet” policy.
The following evening it was the turn of Labour to "throw open the door for adults to study". It pledged to offer a free entitlement to A levels (or other level 3 qualifications) for all adults – as well as six years of study for qualifications at levels 4-6.
Then on Wednesday, the Conservatives unveiled plans to invest £1.8 billion over five years in a further education college rebuilding programme.
After years of being largely ignored in mainstream politics, it’s refreshing to see positive visions and ideas for FE being put forward.
It was heartening to read David Hughes’ assertion that “austerity is now a failed policy of the past” in his column for Tes this week, and his optimism for what the 2020s will hold for colleges after a decade which, with the best will in the world, has been pretty damn difficult.
But this shift in how the sector is perceived isn’t down to luck. Yes, colleges need influential allies and champions in Parliament. But what I have noticed more and more in the last 12 months is that colleges are becoming acutely aware that, if they don’t shout about their successes and how vital a role they play, nobody else is going to do it for them.
This is why the Association of Colleges Annual Conference next week is such an important moment in the FE calendar. It offers a great opportunity to sector leaders to compare notes and share ideas. Tes is delighted to be media partners for this year’s conference.
But this isn’t all that we do. Since 2012, the Tes FE Awards have – thanks to the support of the Education and Training Foundation, the Association of Colleges and other sector bodies – gone from strength to strength. And, especially given the fact that a new government is imminent, there’s no more important time for FE providers to celebrate their successes and share best practice.
This year sees the introduction of two new categories. Entries for the WorldSkills Unsung Hero Award can be made on behalf of individuals or teams who work for providers, employers and other organisations supporting WorldSkills participants. The second new award will pay tribute to a college’s outstanding GCSE resits provision. The Outstanding GCSE Resits Provision Award is open to a team or teams at any further education provider, and covers the year 2018-19.
Entry is free and open to all further education establishments in the UK, and the shortlist will be announced in Tes magazine on 10 January. The winners will then be announced at a glittering awards ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London, on 20 March.
Stephen Exley is Further Education Editor at Tes