See our expert panel of judges below!
As deputy chief executive, Ben Blackledge is responsible for driving WorldSkills UK’s programme of work in the UK and internationally.
In partnership with representatives from government, industry and education, he leads the UK-wide initiative to embed skills competitions methodology into apprenticeship and training programmes, raising standards and ensuring more young people from all walks of life are being equipped with the right skills to help businesses better compete globally.
After a long career in secondary schools, Bill Watkin spent 10 years as a director at the Schools, Students and Teachers Network and, in 2016, he took up the position of chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association.
Since leaving the teaching profession, he has been occupied with government policy initiatives, lobbying for the best solutions – particularly in the context of curriculum, assessments, qualifications and accountability – and with building the size, reach and influence of the membership network. He also sits on a number of boards and two multi-academy trusts.
Bob Harrison has had extensive experience in schools and colleges as a teacher, lecturer, senior manager, principal and governor. He has worked with headteachers and senior leaders in developing leadership skills for the National College of School Leadership.
He was an adviser to Department for Education and Skills on the FE Principals’ Qualification, digital/e-learning adviser for the DfES Standards Unit and the lead on Digital Futures for the Building Schools for the Future leadership programme. He is also chair of governors at Northern College, governor at Oldham College and a visiting professor at the University of Wolverhampton.
He was recently shortlisted for the Tes FE lifetime achievement award.
As the senior vice-president of Btec and apprenticeships at Pearson Plc, Cindy Rampersaud is responsible for the development of Pearson’s technical, vocational and apprenticeship qualifications in the UK. Prior to joining Pearson, she was deputy commissioner at the Department for Education and held the position of deputy principal at City & Islington College, leading its corporate services.
She is passionate about the vital role education and skills based learning can play in helping individuals make progress in their lives and has a particular interest in the increasing role of technology in providing access to education and lifelong learning.
David Hughes became chief executive of the Association of Colleges in September 2016. Before that he was chief executive at the Learning and Work Institute, formed in 2016 from a merger he led between Inclusion and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.
Previously, he worked in senior roles at the Skills Funding Agency and the Learning and Skills Council. He has held many board and committee roles, and played a leading role in establishing the new Education and Training Foundation.
David Russell was appointed as the first permanent chief executive of the Education and Training Foundation in January 2014 and has grown the organisation from a start-up to become a trusted, effective improvement agency working with government and the FE sector to support quality and standards.
He previously served in the Department for Education under Labour and then the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition government, latterly as national policy director for vocational education. Other senior policy roles have included leading the Open Academies programme and managing the cross-government Skills Strategy.
Fiona Aldridge is director for policy and research at the Learning and Work Institute, responsible for leading its programme of research and development, and ensuring that the institute’s work influences policy and practice by providing a credible and influential voice on learning, skills and employment.
She has more than 20 years’ experience in the adult learning and skills sector, and currently works across a range of policy areas, with a particular focus on building the capacity of local areas, providers and employers to lead and respond to changes in post-16 education and skills.
Helena Good is a design lecturer at Edinburgh College and project manager for Daydream Believers, a unique programme of engagement that supports educators, employers and designers to create resources that put creativity at the heart of education. She is currently on a 12-month secondment to Skills Development Scotland.
She is also part of a collective working on the Creative Bravery Festival, an online event that celebrates acts of creative bravery, and uses them to transform and rethink the way we educate.
In November 2020, she was named Tes FE teacher of the year.
Ian Pretty is chief executive of the Collab Group of Colleges, a forward-thinking membership organisation that represents leading UK colleges and college groups, which collaborate with a range of stakeholders in developing sustainable technical and professional education to enable a transformation of the productive capacity of the UK economy.
Previously, he spent eight years at Capgemini, a global consulting, technology and outsourcing group, holding senior global and UK roles as a vice-president and then senior vice-president. He is a former senior civil servant, having worked in the Cabinet Office and for HM Revenue and Customs.
Jane Hickie is approaching her fifth anniversary with the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP). She joined the organisation in 2016 as chief operating officer, having gained a wealth of experience in the not-for-profit sector, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for those from deprived or disadvantaged communities. She was appointed managing director in July 2020 and, in January 2021, became chief executive.
Before joining AELP, she was operations and corporate partnerships director for Groundwork, the national environmental charity. Prior to that, as head of regeneration at Genesis Housing Group, she pioneered large-scale collaborations to win major projects in London and the South East.
Jeff Greenidge began his working life as a teacher in the South Wales Valleys, then became a civil servant, developing the national curriculum for languages before working in the private sector on European vocational education projects. In 1999, he joined Ufi to help set up the learndirect network. At learndirect, he was director for Wales, then for Northern Ireland and finally UK Operations Director, before retiring in 2015.
After that, he provided hands-on support to governments, and education and training businesses in the UK and internationally. Since 2019, he has been working with the Education and Training Foundation and the Association of Colleges to shape the diversity in the leadership coaching and development programme.
Jennifer Coupland took up post as chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in November 2019. Her previous role was director of professional and technical education in the Department for Education for three years, where she was responsible for T-level development and delivery, the level 3 and below qualifications review, and the higher technical reforms.
Previously, she was acting chief executive of the Standards and Testing Agency, overseeing its work on primary school assessment policy and operational delivery. Before that, she spent three years as the deputy director of the joint DfE/Department for Business, Innovation and Skills apprenticeships unit
Jim Metcalfe is chief executive of the College Development Network, the national college sector development agency. He is also a trustee of the UK Energy Saving Trust and a director of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership.
He was previously head of projects and development at Carnegie UK, leading community initiatives such as TestTown, Understanding Scottish Places and the foundation of Community Shares Scotland. He serves on the Scottish government’s Curriculum Advisory Board.
Lynette Barrett has worked in education, health and social care for 24 years, joining National Star in January 2001. She has more than 18 years’ management experience and 12 years as a senior leader, recently achieving an MBA in senior leadership.
She has been instrumental in leading the diversification of specialist education and care at National Star and was appointed as chief operations officer in 2019. She is passionate about the right for young people with disabilities to have choice of high-quality education and care that suits their needs and aspirations.
Marie-Thérèse McGivern served as principal and chief executive of Belfast Metropolitan College from 2009 until her retirement in April 2020. Just prior to retirement, the college was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its contribution to the growth of the digital sector in Northern Ireland.
She was previously director of development at Belfast City Council and head of policy, planning and research at the Belfast Regeneration Office.
She is currently a commissioner on the Independent Commission for the Future of the College and a member of the Quality and Standards Committee for City & Guilds.
Sue Pember started her career as a teacher and is one of the few people in the further education sector who has had senior leadership roles in colleges, local authorities and government.
She is now the policy director for HOLEX, the professional body for adult education services, centres and institutions. Her work concentrates on ensuring that the voice of adult learners is heard and she is a keen advocate of lifelong learning.
Vicky Duckworth is professor of education at Edge Hill University and has extensive experience of teaching and research in further education.
She is committed to challenging inequity, and aligning her practice and research to models of social justice. Most recently, she was a founding member of Right2Learn.