vocational excellence

Project 4: FE College participation in WorldSkills


Project 4 Further education college participation in WorldSkills and other skills competitions

Research Brief:

Research Brief Project 4 

Executive Summary: 

This study focused on the ways in which colleges participate in skills competitions, why participation might vary across colleges in the United Kingdom, the institutional benefits and costs of being involved and how colleges fund their participation. As the findings are based on a small sample, they are not necessarily representative of all UK colleges.

There are many different ways in which colleges participate in competitions. These activities include both small-scale (e.g. in-house competitions in the classroom) and large-scale initiatives (e.g. hosting competitions). The nature and extent of involvement varies from one institution to another and also from one department to another within individual colleges.

Variation in participation appears to be due to several factors, including: relative awareness of and exposure to competitions; reliance on enthusiasm and goodwill on the part of college staff engaged in competition-related activities; alignment with institutional priorities; availability of resources; availability of competitions; and accessibility of competitions. The colleges who are most highly involved typically have senior leaders and staff with first-hand experience of competitions; are enthusiastic about being involved in competitions and willing to dedicate time to this involvement; have competitions work embedded within the institution’s teaching and learning strategy; have the time and money available to allocate these resources to competitions work; and have competitions available that suit their college’s students, staff and specialisations.

Interviewees reported benefits for colleges (including teaching staff) and for students. The benefits for colleges include: continuing professional development opportunities for teaching staff; enhancing the quality of teaching and learning; contributing to positive publicity and reputation acquiring new equipment and developing relationships with employers. The main reported benefits for students are the development of their technical skills and soft skills.

It is difficult in many cases to estimate the overall cost to colleges of being involved in competitions, though it is clear that costs vary with the nature and extent of a college’s involvement. The costs involved can include: materials; transportation; accommodation; competition judges’ expenses; and staff time. Three models for funding competitions were identified: using money from the college’s central budget (which is either allocated to departments or to a specific competitions fund); using sponsorship or funding from other external sources (including government funding); or some combination of these.

We make the following recommendations:

  1. Senior leaders of colleges to be encouraged to attend competitions events in person.
  2. The potential benefits of being involved in competitions, in particular with how they can be used as evidence of excellence for Ofsted inspections, could be more clearly communicated to colleges.
  3. Facilitating knowledge exchange between colleges regarding different ways of being involved in competitions could support those colleges who are interested in becoming involved.
  4. Providing colleges with clear examples of how competition participation can contribute to excellence in teaching and learning could stimulate greater interest in participation.
  5. Facilitating knowledge exchange between colleges to learn how other colleges fund their participation would be particularly valuable to colleges beginning or intending to increase their competitions engagement.


Dr Susan James, University of Oxford, susan.james@education.ox.ac.uk

Ms Jennifer Allen, University of Oxford, jennifer.allen@education.ox.ac.uk

Dr Maia Chankseliani, University of Oxford, maia.chankseliani@education.ox.ac.uk