FE colleges are funded directly by the Welsh government. A single department funds all education from cradle to grave. There is no pay differential between college and school teachers. In 2003, the Welsh government instructed colleges to negotiate with the trade unions on pay parity and additional funding was made available.
Wales has no academies: FE colleges and schools are urged to work together in line with the Learning and Skills (Wales) Measure, requiring a minimum number of courses to be made available to people at age 14 and 16, including a minimum number of vocational options. This agenda includes a drive to transform post-16 learning and has boosted funding for adult skills by pound;16.5 million for 201011. Colleges are forging alliances with higher education institutions and school sixth forms.
The Welsh Bac and the Credit and Qualifications Framework are having a huge impact on delivering the curriculum in colleges. Welsh colleges have invested in raising standards through Colleges Wales' self-regulation. Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, has praised college performance and student success rates have soared from about 40 per cent of students in 200001 to 76 per cent in 200708.
Leighton Andrews, the Welsh education minister, has noted colleges' central role in raising skills and addressing the economic downturn and the value of higher-level vocational qualifications has been cited by the Welsh government. FE colleges are now accepted as key to higher education.
But colleges here are not complacent and not everything is rosy. The 201011 funding for colleges is tough. There is no plethora of funding bodies, but as there are no quangos to cut, funding reductions are likely to hit colleges directly. The minister is examining how to increase the amount of funding that reaches the front line.
A referendum will take place next year on increasing the powers of the Welsh government in devolved areas, and the National Assembly for Wales elections will be held in May. The results could change the relationship between Wales and Westminster and set a different direction for colleges. Let's hope this new path will see the positives of further education emphasised.
John Graystone, Chief executive, CollegesWales.