Wales’ Further Education colleges deserve parity and clarity and not charity, claims ColegauCymru

ColegauCymru is urgently requesting clarity and financial assistance from Welsh Government with regards to the safe return of post-16 learners to further education from this September. Many of our concerns remain unaddressed with the start of the new academic year now just 43 days away, putting colleges and learners at risk.

It is well documented that the post-Covid19 future of FE has been left in the dark whilst schools in Wales have already begun to receive practical guidance, funding and support as they prepare for learners to safely return to the classroom. We feel strongly that the complexities of the FE sector are not being recognised. Crucially at this key time, the specific challenges of learners aged 16-19 in any setting - school or college - are not being thought out in the necessary detail to keep this age group safe. The challenge of delivering to adult learners and through a workforce that’s generally older than that in schools has been completely ignored. The lack of parity between schools and colleges has not been helpful.

ColegauCymru Chief Executive Iestyn Davies said,

“With just 6 weeks until the beginning of the new term, the FE sector is still no clearer on the funding provision or the practicalities relating to the safe return of learners and staff to face-to-face provision. We are now urging the Welsh Government cabinet to finalise with our member colleges the arrangements for safe return and the crucial funding needed to make this possible.”

Key areas to address urgently
With a diverse group of young adult learners, from vocational through to A level, we are particularly seeking guidance on a range of logistical issues - none more so than that of the funding which will be required to mitigate some of the damage already done to young people’s learning by the pandemic. They include:

  • Support for young adults and learners, both aged 16-19 and above the age of 19, as the relaxing of social distancing rules which has been announced for schools will not be appropriate in a college setting.
  • Acknowledging the added cost of making appropriate provision to accommodate a higher volume of learners on campus. Annual enrolment for 2020/21 will be higher as a number of current vocational learners return in September to complete their qualifications and to gain their Licence to Practice certificates.
  • As in schools, specific support will be required for resit learners who may not have received the results they had hoped for at GCSE, and those who may wish to re-sit their AS Level examinations.
  • Provision via a digital entitlement of appropriate equipment, software and mobile internet to access online learning, particularly if a second wave of infection occurs.
  • Additional funding to meet the specific needs of the many ALN and ILS learners.
  • Matters such as transport and catering, which will have further implications for the supply chain.

These examples alone bring with them unprecedented logistical issues, additional to the ongoing requirements of awarding bodies, and the delivery of a person-centred curriculum.

Economic implications
The anticipated social and economic implications that will ensue from a lack of financial support for the sector will be felt far and wide. Colleges across Wales have considerable supply chains which according to our prior research (EMSi Data) contribute hugely to their respective local economies.

Working constructively towards a resolution
We are simply requesting clarity and parity with the provision that we see being given to schools, both in terms of funding and practical guidance. It is now imperative that Welsh Government this week provides colleges with the relevant support so that plans can be translated into action and then into the excellent provision we have come to expect of FE in Wales. It is crucial that the cost of providing education and training to both young people and adults is met and that there is complete assurance that the individual needs of learners can be fulfilled in colleges this Autumn.

We and our member colleges are keen to continue to work with Welsh Government to reach a meaningful solution as soon as possible. Public announcements and assurances amount to nothing unless these words are translated into tangible action and financial support.

Iestyn Davies concluded,

“To open safely and effectively in September, and to provide support for learners, requires genuinely new money pumped into the further education budget. This lies in the hands of the Finance Minister and Trefnydd and the decisions made by the whole cabinet. The FE sector in Wales cannot afford any further delay.”

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