Doing the best by vocational and technical learners: Allocating additional support wisely

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Further Education Institutions (FEIs) across Wales are preparing to receive Welsh Government Renew and Reform funding to support vocational and technical learners during the 2022/23 academic year. ColegauCymru Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Dr Rachel Bowen takes a closer look at the importance of providing autonomy to colleges, who are best placed to allocate this support.

Rachel Bowen, Director of Policy And Public AffairsThe Further Education sector has been encouraged to learn of an additional £20m from Welsh Government specifically to support post-16 vocational and technical learners in 2022/23, particularly as considerable concerns remain in relation to the technical assessments and certification needed by vocational learners to enter their chosen field of work. It will be essential to think about how best to allocate this funding to ensure that both learners and staff are fully supported and engaged in its delivery.

Findings from a recent Welsh Government statistical release looking at learning outcomes for learners on vocational programmes, general education programmes, apprenticeships or adult learning courses between August 2020 and July 2021 found that outcomes have been worse for learners on non-Level 3 vocational programmes, apprenticeships, and adult learning. The statistical release also notes that many inequalities in post-16 outcomes widened or resurfaced in 2020/21.

The extra £20m will help to tackle some of the inequalities which are highlighted in the release, but support should not be delivered in a blanket, one size fits all approach. We believe that our colleges are best placed to understand and accommodate the needs of their respective learners, of local employers and the broader community. Colleges should therefore be given the autonomy to target interventions in a way that best supports their technical and vocational learners and staff.

We have for some time been acutely aware of the specific challenges which have faced technical education due to the pandemic. Unlike studying for an A Level, technical learners need to have covered all the relevant areas of study. Adaptations to the curriculum are simply not possible in the same way. A technical learner in, for example, construction, must be able to demonstrate the same overall standard in each area where technical competency is required. This means the time and facilities need to be available to complete the whole learning programme and cover each area of trade practice. FE leaders have frequently drawn attention to the need to be able to plan and deliver a more tailored kind of support.

With so much attention being paid to A Level and GCSE results, the challenge for FEIs too is to avoid prioritising the areas in which they compete with schools. Whilst widespread support is required by all post 16 learners as we emerge from the pandemic, technical learners often require bespoke support based on the areas they have missed due to the disruption. It is only leaders within each college, often in each specific trade area, who will be best placed to assign where, how, and when this support is needed.

With the support of Welsh Government and the expertise of our colleges, the focus for the sector must be to really understand the needs of our technical learners to enable them to achieve in their chosen field. Then, vitally, we must ensure that these learners achieve their full potential. Anything less is to risk further entrenching the academic/vocational divide.

Further Information

Welsh Government Statistics and Research
Outcomes for learners in post-16 education affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
16 February 2022

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