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A roaring celebration of vocational education – so why are Ministers and Parliamentarians playing sleeping lions?

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On Wednesday 5 June, City & Guilds hosted its annual Lion Awards. Each year, this ceremony celebrates exceptional vocational achievers. It is a culmination of our Medals for Excellence programme, which were awarded to 114 individuals this year.

The Lion Awards is one of the highlights of our year. It is a chance for us to meet some outstanding learners, tutors and organisations and recognise their amazing achievements. Whether this is an apprentice who has singlehandedly doubled their employer’s revenue, a business which supports local young people to develop their skills, or an individual who turns their life around through hard work and commitment, the Awards brings together a host of inspiring stories.

Youth unemployment stubbornly hovers around the one million mark and the economic forecast remains uncertain. It’s easy to feel gloomy about these figures. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate the positives – so we can understand what makes people successful, whilst inspiring others about the opportunities work-based learning offers.

Take Daniel Keane, who won the ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award. Daniel left school unable to read and write but he didn’t let this stand in the way of his dream job. He shone through his apprenticeship in automotive maintenance and repair not just because of his exceptional technical abilities, but because of his enthusiasm and commitment to succeeding. In fact, within weeks of beginning his apprenticeship he had begun to develop his reading, writing and communication skills to a high standard.

Meanwhile Helen Wynne, who won both Small Business Learner of the Year and Outstanding Achiever of the Year, was recognised for her shrewd business sense. Her son, Dyfan, was born with a disability so rare that he is the only child in the country affected. After struggling to find appropriate childcare provision for Dyfan, Helen took matters into her own hands. She saw a gap in the market for specialist childcare for those with disabilities and additional needs. And to make sure she can offer the very best of care, she has undertaken extensive training to meet each child’s individual needs. As a result her childminding business, Blythswood Childminding Services, has gone from strength to strength.

The Awards also celebrate those who teach and inspire individuals to achieve. The Innovator of the Year was the late Maria O’Boyle. Maria, an inspirational tutor at Skills for Work and Life, was awarded for her unique methods of teaching and caring guidance. She knew how to engage those who had previously struggled with education and helped them to succeed. As I’m sure you can see, our winners are shining examples of how hard work, enthusiasm and talent can make a real difference to people’s lives. More information on the amazing winners can be found here.

It’s no coincidence that this year’s Lion Awards ceremony was held on Vocational Qualification Day. As a sector, VQ Day provides a brilliant opportunity to further celebrate achievements within vocational education.

It was undoubtedly a huge success with extensive support from the Government. But whilst I congratulate Ministers and Parliamentarians for playing their part in the celebrations, a recent City & Guilds survey revealed that Parliamentary time devoted to debates around academic education was over four times that spent on vocational education. So whilst progress is certainly being made in terms of celebrating success, we still need to do more to ensure that vocational education is given greater Parliamentary Business time.

There is a vital role for politicians, employers, education providers and companies like City & Guilds to raise awareness of the value of a high-quality vocational education and change perceptions for the better. And there’s never been a better time for it.

Chris Jones is chief executive and director general of City & Guilds, the awarding body

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