The Government's announcement about the launch of Tech Levels has shaken up the FE sector once again – but for the right reasons this time. Tech Levels on the whole are a great step forward. They will provide a much-needed high-quality vocational offer that counts towards school performance tables, and are held in the same esteem as A-levels. They aren't the perfect solution of course. Learning should be about more than just a qualification. It should be about ensuring we equip young people with the right attitudes for the workplace.
Our recent report, 'Making Education Work' highlighted that 80% of employers think work experience is essential to ensuring young people are ready to work. And yet over 40% of businesses don't work with local schools or colleges to attract new talent.
This is what we need to address if we are to truly provide young people with a highly-valued, high-quality vocational progression route. They need to opportunity to develop their skills further in a work environment.
That's why work experience will be central to City & Guilds' TechBac® programme, which will be available from Autumn 2014. Through Tech Levels and the TechBac®, I really believe young people will finally have a highly-valued, high-quality vocational progression route.
Concerns around work experience aside, I think we can all agree that these steps to raise standards and change perceptions of skills education are very positive. And it bodes well for 2014.
So what else does the New Year have in store? Sadly, we know there's the prospect of a 17.5 per cent cut in funding for 18 year olds, which is an unwelcome challenge. But I think as a sector, we need to stay positive. Regardless of challenges, there are always new opportunities.
In particular, there are three things that I predict will be the biggest game-changers of the New Year:
1. Digital learning. I know that teachers have long used technology to teach in new ways, but I think digital learning will skyrocket this year. I've seen some great developments in my own team at City & Guilds, and I can't wait to see how it is going to influence the sector even further.
2. Raising standards. Two colleges were awarded outstanding marks from Ofsted this year; the first two to do so under the new guidelines. As providers rise to the challenge to improve, it can only result in better learning for our students.
3. Employer engagement. I know I've said it a million times, but better involvement between employers and educators is the key to tackling youth unemployment. Giving employers more ownership of skills will help. But I would like to see them working more closely with local education providers to make a positive impact on careers advice.
The FE sector has seen so many changes during 2013 – some good, some bad. I look forward to seeing how things develop in 2014.
Kirstie Donnelly is UK managing director of City & Guilds, the awarding body