Colegau Cymru, the not-for-profit member-led body established in 1995 by Further Education (FE) colleges, to represent and promote their interests and post-16 education, is celebrating its 10th birthday of operating from its offices in Tongwynlais, Cardiff. As we send them our good wishes, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on all things FE. . .
I’ve had a long association with Colegau Cymru - as Chair of the Colegau Cymru HR Directors Network for 4 years and a member of the National Negotiations team for 5 years which saw the introduction of the national contract for the FE workforce in Wales; this was an interesting time - particularly given the vast number of mergers that took place in this period - resulting in a reduction from 22 FE institutions down to 12.
As a member of the Principals’ Forum, I have seen significant changes within Colegau Cymru. With due focus on strategy, political engagement and structural reform, its strong team does sterling work to promote the work of the Further Education sector through policy development, political engagement, external affairs and project work.
It’s true to say, there has never been a more important time to draw on the diversity and flexibility of Colleges in Wales. We continue to respond positively and practically to developments including a revised funding formula introduced this term, the implementation of the 2018/19 pay settlement resulting in lecturer’s pay parity with school teachers, and rewarding those on the lowest pay with a 4.5% increase.
Changes in additional learning needs legislation, together with post-compulsory education and training reform, the new Diamond financial package for Higher Education learners, and the introduction of degree apprenticeships are some of the key developments in recent times.
Gone are the days of FE Colleges providing a single route to vocational qualifications; with a vast array of qualifications on offer, colleges have become a one-stop-shop for all learning routes for young people. GCSE re-sits, A-levels, vocational study, traineeships, apprenticeships and degree routes and work placements are all readily accessible. And on a global stage, we certainly hold our own when it comes to World Skills championships (the “FE Skills Olympics”) with 29% of Team UK Award winners coming from Welsh Colleges.
Importantly, what of the adult learning offer? This has seen a decline in recent years due to lack of funding. However, we now see a renewed focus, with a degree of energy and movement to enhance the adult learning offer in Wales. This started in December 2018 with the Progressive Agreement between the Minister for Education and the First Minister setting out a commitment to establish a new Welsh right to Lifelong Learning. More recently, some Colleges have seen an increase in their part-time allocations resulting in an extended offer for evening and weekend study.
Adult Community Learning (ACL) is getting a face-lift too, with a phased introduction to more equitable funding allocations amongst local authorities next year and the introduction of a National Strategic Body to oversee all community-based adult learning in Wales by 2024. The lifelong learning focus is further enhanced by the Centenary Commission report released this week, highlighting that adult education must be a “permanent national necessity”.
Despite the positive developments, the adult learning offer still falls well short of where it needs to be, and our work to continue to raise the profile of adult learning, especially in communities is as important as ever. Could this be the start of an exciting time and the introduction of truly lifelong learning offer for every citizen in Wales?
The FE sector repeatedly shows itself to be a responsive, flexible sector, which adapts well to constant change. As strong collaborators, Colleges continue to deliver education, skills and employment opportunities to support economic growth.
As a sector, we are extremely good at what we do, and we should take a lot of pride in what we have achieved. We will continue to be alert to an ever-changing climate and not rest on our laurels. There is a lot of work to do to ensure that the post-16 offer remains relevant, valuable and linked to employer needs through the Regional Skills Partnerships and strong partnerships across Wales.
I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue our work and delivering the best possible opportunities for the people of Wales - whatever their age, and whatever their circumstances. With the leadership, help and support of Colegau Cymru, we look forward to the next 10 years and beyond!
Kathryn Robson, Chief Executive
Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales