Council fury over shunned post-16 reforms
A row has broken out between the Assembly government and a council over plans to shake up post-16 education that could mean closure for many small sixth forms.
Officials in Monmouthshire are understood to be "fuming" that their proposals to reform school sixth-form and college provision have been virtually rejected by the government.
All 22 of Wales's local authorities, along with FE colleges and private training providers, were asked to submit detailed proposals to transform their post-16 provision in September last year.
They were challenged to "set aside traditional, narrow institutional arrangements" and plan provision collectively to improve education and skill levels.
But when the government revealed the submitted proposals last week, it said Monmouthshire was the only council that had chosen to "maintain the status quo".
Andrew Keep, the council's director for lifelong learning, disagreed. He said officials had actually submitted a strategic outline programme to the government which considered "a number of options" for post-16 provision.
Mr Keep said: "The programme does not maintain the status quo, but in fact builds on successful post-16 provision via sixth forms in each of the four comprehensive schools where numbers all exceed 200."
Monmouthshire's learning partnership, which includes secondary schools, Coleg Gwent and private training providers, has been involved in a government-sponsored "mini pathfinder project" looking at post-16 options. This was recently praised by Estyn inspectors.
Mr Keep said the programme proposed the development of community learning centres, which would be a "significant advance" offering extra academic and vocational options.
But an Assembly government spokesman said the council's plans were not backed by a "firm rationale".
TES Cymru understands that government officials have privately told Monmouthshire's education chiefs that they need to be "more radical" in their thinking.
Both parties are now in talks to try to resolve the situation. "We're having ongoing constructive discussions with the Welsh Assembly government," Mr Keep said.
Many opposition politicians and teachers' unions still have serious concerns about the implications of the post-16 transformation agenda.
Responding to concerns expressed in the Senedd last week, John Griffiths, deputy minister for skills, said it was clear there was no "prejudice" against sixth forms.
"Local circumstances are driving the future shape of provision," he said. "We have seen a variety across Wales, ranging from tertiary systems to much more formal collaboration between sixth forms and colleges.
"We want to work with local authorities to make sure we can move from the current way of doing things to what would be a better way."
Meanwhile Jane Hutt, the education minister, last week announced that Pounds 12.2 million of a Pounds 40m capital funding pot would be used to help "accelerate" the transformation of post-16 education.
It includes Pounds 5.9m to be put towards design and planning work for the transformation proposals.
There will also be Pounds 4.5 million for Ebbw Vale's new Learning Zone, a facility on the town's former Corus steelworks site that will take over post-16 provision from Coleg Gwent.
A further Pounds 1.8m will go towards a new Energy and Fabrication Centre at Coleg Menai's Llangefni campus in Anglesey, which will provide people with work skills.
Ms Hutt said the funding would also help to kick-start a number of "exciting initiatives" at several FE colleges.
Mr Griffiths added: "We want to provide learners with more choice and access while ensuring that the quality of education on offer is first class.
"This significant funding will be key to us securing the infrastructure to achieve that goal."