The ‘heartbreaking’ path to raising standards through competition

Among the many proud principals watching learners take part in last month’s WorldSkills UK competitions at the Skills Show was Graham Razey. But despite no mention for his college among the medal winners, he views taking part as an opportunity to challenge and improve [click here for the FE Week 2015 Skills Show supplement].

I’m a very competitive individual. That trait is one which comes from my longstanding passion for team sports. I’ve seen first-hand the difference that competing can make for people, as they practise repeatedly to hone their skillset which is eventually tested in the arena of competition.

I make no bones about my competitive nature and drive. So it would be understandable, therefore, for you to think a skills competition — for me, as principal of East Kent College — would be all about winning and the haul of medals our students could bring home.

So when the college’s competitors returned from the recent WorldSkills UK Skills Competition finals held at the NEC without any glittering awards, you’d think I would be upset.

Not achieving podium finishes this year has not deterred us from going back and striving for yet higher standards

You’d be right. In fact, I was utterly inconsolable, but not for the reason you’re thinking.

At East Kent College, we took the decision to get involved in skills competitions about two years ago, so we’re fairly fresh to them on the national stage. We made the decision to start taking part because we, as a college, wanted to begin showcasing the high standards which our students were achieving.

We wanted to put our students up against the best of their peers. There was a reason for that — confidence. We, as a college, were confident that we were teaching our students at the highest standards, and they too were pushing themselves to achieve the best possible results.

The crucible of skills competitions would also, in our view, ensure that our tutors and all staff continued to not only provide the highest standard of education, but would keep innovating, keep pushing forward to help students fulfil their potential. Our students would also benefit from taking part in skills competitions.

Being tested in the tough competitive environment, we felt, would help to not only get the best from them, but also to inspire them. Being surrounded by the cream of the crop would motivate our students to push themselves.

And it seems to be working at East Kent College. Our students are achieving ever higher standards, and our staff have continued to drive forward, always working to ensure that they are the top of their game.

So as a competitive man, and someone who believes in our students and staff, when the results for the WorldSkills were announced I was heartbroken. But it was not because of the lack of medals.

It was because over the three-day competition I’d seen the passion, determination and drive of all of the college’s students and tutors, and in truth, I was gutted for them. By the time the competition had finished all of our students looked shattered. I have never seen nine individuals give so much to a competition, they were all utterly drained.

And that is the heart and soul of what skills competitions are about. It isn’t about getting a medal, it’s about building our students up — shaping them and helping them to be the best they can be. When I saw how much my students had achieved, with such high standards, I desperately wanted them to be rewarded for their efforts. That was the real reason I was inconsolable, not the lack of medals.

The journey East Kent College is taking is one of progression. Not achieving podium finishes this year has not deterred us from going back and striving for yet higher standards. In fact, it has only served to make us more determined to come back stronger.

And when our students win gold in the future — and I have no doubt they will — it won’t just show an individual with talent, it’ll show a college which has worked hard to continue improving its skills standards, and showed commitment to helping everyone achieve their full potential.

It will show that the college is further down the road in its journey to being the best educational establishment it can be, for students, for staff, for the local community and for the businesses our young people will go on to work for.

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