Through my leadership of the WorldSkills Vocational Masterclass Programme, I have been privileged to see the impact that taking part in skills competitions can make on learning outcomes and organisational development. The return of the UK wide Skills Show next month provides an opportunity to explore and celebrate the wider impact of skills competition on the development of higher level teaching, learning and assessment skills.
Taking part in competitions as part of the curriculum encourages learners to aim higher and develop and extend skills. It widens their vocational knowledge and experience and can be used to help underperforming learners to close achievement gaps. It's accessible to all, including learners with disabilities and or difficulties who can achieve positive results through specific activities, customised to their needs. Learning as part of a team, how to plan, manage and deliver a task to a timeframe and under pressure are all transferable skills for the workplace and important attributes for success in employment and education. It motivates and focuses them to problem solve and develops independence, builds confidence and performance for all.
"It was good to use my skills in a different way; I had to use my initiative and that really motivated me" (Learner at a Vocational Masterclass)
Teachers are surprised at the effect noticing, after skills competitions, that learners are more reflective about their work and more proactive, competing amongst themselves, trying to do better than their peers in a positive way.
It's not only learners who benefit from taking part, it inspires teachers to reflect on their practice, explore coaching techniques, experiment with innovative approaches, update assessment and subject skills ,adopting new methods of delivery to inform their continuous professional development.
Colleges and training providers involved in competition activity have identified the morale boosting benefits, describing it as a catalyst to introduce a long term strategy for whole college engagement in competition approaches in teaching and learning, supporting learners on the road to WorldSkills competitions.
Employers are able to take an active part in competitions as judges, donating toolkits and work experience as prizes. A key outcome is the establishment of relationships and links resulting in business opportunities, work placements and enhanced reputation in the local community.
''It was clear that inviting employers to the event had huge benefits for us as an organisation. Some employers have requested that we investigate routes into competition for their apprentices. We now plan to use competition days for future employer engagement." (Principal at VMC)
At Boston College, an end-of-year awards ceremony has been re-introduced, built around competition. The response of employers to approaches for support has been amazing – eliciting interest, prizes and personnel to participate in judging or observation. Three learners were offered work placements by visiting employers as a result of what they saw. The response from learners was very positive and they were also able to carefully analyse the learning skills they had gained through competition and how it would help them.
The positive promotion of competitions through local media is a powerful tool to build the reputation of teaching and learning in education and training giving recognition to the difference its makes to the skills of learners and the benefits to the local economy.
With levels of educational attainment rising in other countries, it's time to step up and close the gap to raise the level of skills in the UK, Adopting the coaching techniques and higher level strategies used to train WorldSkills UK competitors will provide all learners with an opportunity to achieve success in a world class education system.
The WorldSkills Vocational Masterclass Programme is part of a suite of legacy projects commissioned by the National Apprenticeship Service and in receipt of grant funding from the Skills Funding Agency.
Michelle Jennings is a project director for IfL Worldskills - these views represent the writer's opinion only
Resources materials, guidance, case studies videos and a publication from the WorldSkills Vocational Masterclass Programme will be available for providers and practitioners on the WorldSkills UK website