The launch of the new community consortia, that will deliver post-16 education and training in Wales, is still 10 months away. But in Bridgend, south Wales, a partnership of providers is well-prepared - so much so that they are already calling themselves a CCET, or community consortium for education and training, in the run-up to the changes next April.
This learning partnership has been operating for more than two years. It represents post-16 education and training across the board - schools, further and higher education, voluntary organisations, careers, and the business sector.
Partners meet once or twice a term, and have working groups looking at specific areas. They are, for example, able to track every child going through education and training into employment. And a single post-16 prospectus goes out to every youngster in the borough.
David Matthews, director of education, leisure and community services at Bridgend County Borough Council, believes the partnership represents what the National Assembly wants from the new consortia. So what is its secret?
"I think we've been very lucky in terms of the membership," he said. "And we've agreed the chair will always be a business person, so they're not representing schools, colleges or training. They're independent in that sense.
"If we feel that something should be put on in the college we will do so because that's the most appropriate place for it. And schools are willing to share good practice. They don't see themselves in that competitive framework. It's about building an element of trust between all the players."
That trust is going to be crucial when this kind of partnership becomes the vehicle for post-16 education and training throughout Wales next April.
The Learning and Skills Bill, expected to become law this summer, will create a new National Council for Education and Training for Wales (CETW). This body will replace the Welsh further education funding body and the four Welsh training and enterprise councils. It will also have regional committees.
With a total annual budget of pound;500 million, CETW will fund all post-16 education apart from HE, including school sixth forms and Modern Apprentices. By 2002 it is estimated that CETW will handle around 10 per cent of the National Assembly budget.
A new careers service for all ages - called Careers Wales - will draw together existing advice and guidance services. And on the ground will be the community consortia, which the National Assembly wants to see evolve from existing learning partnerships. In the coming months the number of consortia will have to be finalised. How many there will be is as yet unknown, although between 15 and 18 have been suggested. The crucial question, according to Fforwm, the association of Welsh colleges, is how te new partnerships are going to meet Government objectives of widening participation and bridging the skills gap.
Dr Mike Jones, director of corporate affairs for Fforwm, will be outlining some of these issues of the new framework at next week's Wales 2000 conference. He says that as the community consortia begin to deliver education and training, it may be difficult for partners to cast aside their own agendas as they go into the new CCETs.
"As far as consortia are concerned, there will have to be some memorandum of understanding between all the partners," he said. "The parties will need to agree an agenda."
Although there are good examples of learning partnerships like Bridgend's elsewhere in Wales, the picture is something of a patchwork with some further down the road than others.
Another issue is the change in the way learning is delivered through information technology and learning centres. All this will require major investment, says Dr Jones. "If we want to deliver the widening participation agenda, ICT will play a major part, but students will still need support from tutors."
Running alongside the transition in Wales comes the new curriculum in September. The key skills of communication, application of number and information technology become a qualification in their own right.
Mali Davies, senior qualifications adviser for ACCAC, the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, says the new qualification will become an important contributor to widening participation and providing the skills employers need.
"It's about giving the opportunity for everybody to develop these skills," she said. "Whether they choose to go on to higher education or into employment, it's quite clear that the HE sector and employers value them."
Dr Mike Jones will be speaking on Post 16 Education and Training Developments in Wales at 4pm on Thursday, July 13. Mali Davies will speak on Key Skills KS4-Post 16 at noon on Friday, July 14.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING REFORMS IN WALES
The Education and Training Action Group (ETAP) is formed by the Government to look at education and training in Wales.
March 1999 The group publishes its action plan.
December 1999 The National Assembly's post-16 education and training committee endorses the proposal for a National Council for Education and Training.
February 2000 National Assembly gives the go-ahead to the ETAP proposals. ETAP Implementation Team set up to carry through reforms.
March 2000 Preliminary guidance framework is published for prospective partners in community consortia for education and training.
April 2000 Strategy for implementation in place.
December 2000 Final arrangements due for transfer to new body and wind-up of old organisations.
April 2001 National Council for Education and Training for Wales, regional committees and community consortia to take over post-16 education and training.