'Assembly gives us dialogue'

5th May 2000 at 01:00
* Wil Edmunds, principal of Deeside College (Coleg Glannau Dyfrdwy), Flintshire

Because I'm a Fforwm director I was fortunate to be able to present evidence to the post-16 education committee of the Assembly. I found it very, very valuable to be able to speak directly with Assembly members.

"I think the whole consultative process is a very open one. It's recorded and it's very quickly on the Internet - people can read almost verbatim what Assembly members have said. I think they have set up a very good structure in terms of consulting the post-16 sector.

"When Peter Hain was under-secretary of state for education in the old Welsh Office days, to be fair he was very responsive. But there wasn't a continuing dialogue with the sector. Now we have a continuing dialogue with people in the Assembly.

"I think we're trying to work in tandem with, rather than diverge from, the English sector. We have strong links with the Association of Colleges; we have a member of the Fforwm board who represents us in the English sector; and we are directly in touch with the House of Commons when they are discussing FE and our views are represented.

"But simultaneously, even though Wales is dividing up the cake, we can directly influence that slice."

* Ian Rees, principal of Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, Dolgellau, Gwynedd

I think devolution has been good for colleges. It is focusing on issues facing Wales, which is obviously a way ahead. But the ETAP agenda is moving along very quickly and there's a lot of uncertainty among colleges regarding exactly what is going to happen.

"One issue is that the economic situation is quite different in different areas. Deeside is in a part of north Wales which is very fortunate to have quite an industrial and business base. That's something we aren't afforded in the rural north-west of Wales.

"We cover 830 square miles- a big rural area. And we're a tertiary college providing most of the 16-18 provision. With the proposed community consortiums, you have to ensure that somebody living in a particular area has the same opportunities as a person living in another area.

"Another thing not addressed by the action plan is the Welsh Language issue. Here in Gwynedd, all the schools are bilingual and we aim to provide linguistic continuity. But there are some concerns about how that is going to be taken on board in the action plan.

"If there's going to be much closer co-operation and integration with FE provision, and that FE provision doesn't have the ability to provide bilingual courses, then what happens? Does that undermine schools' provision?"

* Colin Williams, principal of Coleg Glan Hafren (Cardiff Tertiary College), Cardiff

We obviously welcome the proposed changes for post-16 education in Wales, but there are questions that remain to be answered satisfactorily. In particular, how precisely are the community consortiums going to work? What sort of powers will they have? Nobody has really gone into sufficient detail and discussed how these are actually going to work.

"My anxiety is that the calendar will dictate what happens rather than the need, and I'm really quite concerned about that. I feel that more time needs to be taken.

"I'm fully behind the action plan proposals, but they're so important we've got to get them right. Once things start to go wrong, it's very difficult to unpick and reorganise.

"Also, I think it has to be recognised is that what will work for one part of Wales, shouldn't be assumed will work for all parts of Wales.

"One of the issues I and a number of principals are concerned about is the way we seem to be gradually diverging from England. I'm not totally convinced that's a good thing for education in Wales."

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