Pressures grow as Wales tackles reforms

As FE in Wales grows away from England, researchers are watching to see if the Welsh Assembly Government promises are being fulfilled

How has the National Assembly for Wales affected policies for education and training? Responsibility for nearly all aspects has been devolved and the differences between England and Wales are quite marked. When the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, in a speech in December 2002, wished to demonstrate his claim that there was "clear red water" between the policies of his administration and those of New Labour in Westminster, it was to educational initiatives that he frequently turned.

The latest phase of devolution may represent, as is claimed, the emergence of a governance regime that can foster the development of a truly national education system in Wales. In 2001, the Welsh Assembly Government set out its ambitions in 'The Learning Country', a paper whose themes are already becoming apparent in the sector today.

Wales claims greater consensus in policymaking than in England. How far such claims will be borne out remains to be seen, but certain key differences in intention on this side of the Severn are clear.

* A commitment to coherent structures without unnecessary barriers is reflected in the unification in National Council for Education and Training in Wales (ELWa) of the FEFCW and four training and enterprise councils in 2001. (ELWa itself will be absorbed into the WAG in April 2006).

* Implementation of an agreement with fforwm, the association of FE colleges in Wales, to bring full-time FE salary scales in line with those of teachers, including senior teachers, in schools. Negotiations continue over the extension of this to part-time teachers and the revision of the FE management spine.

* On a regionallocal level, ELWa expects all education and training providers, employers and other stakeholders to work in partnership through 21 community consortia for education and training (CCETs). Some of these correspond geographically to local authorities while others are smaller, notably in South East Wales where FE colleges may be represented on several of the 10 CCETs.

* The Learning Country's intention to provide new and more imaginative 14 to 19 provision led in 2004 to the publication of 'Learning Pathways 14-19'. This promises the continuation of a partnership approach that includes an opportunity for young people to make their own contribution throughout the evolving process. Individualised learning pathways, based on a learning core, will offer more choice and flexibility, give access to support and a learning coach, and careers guidance.

* A revised Basic Skills Strategy for Wales is under consultation

* The establishment of a common national planning framework and funding system for all deliverers of education and training post - 16 (other than higher education), from August 1st 2005.

* A comprehensive credit and qualifications framework (CQFW) within which the design of new qualifications frameworks is being embedded. ,

* From September 2003 students began following the Welsh Baccalaureate, which with its notably wide-ranging core study requirement, is closer to continental models than Tomlinson's proposed diploma . The pilot now includes 14 FE colleges with further extension due later in 2005.

However, such changes in the sector are to be achieved within funding constraints which challenge colleges. Against this background and the Welsh Assembly Government's aspirations for the FE sector, we wish, through our two-year research project, to provide a contemporary account of 'Learning and Working in FE in Wales'. We are particularly interested in how the changing nature of FE in Wales makes an impact on classrooms and learning.

Working in collaboration with three colleges, chosen to reflect a range of economic, social and cultural settings, we want to understand better the social interactions that take place between students and teachers and the ways in which this gives rise to both learner and professional identities.

Our intention is also to consider the wider influences on students and teachers and their dispositions to learning and teaching, that is, to consider what they bring to the interaction and how, in turn, this affects the learning that takes place. Moreover, we want to understand learning from the point of view of the students and teachers themselves. In effect, we want them to explain and illustrate what learning is, how it takes place and how it is manifested.

By Martin Jephcote, Gareth Rees, Jane Salisbury (Cardiff University School of Social Sciences) and John Roberts (University of Wales, College of Newport)

More information: www.cf.ac.uksocsiferesearch and on the TLRP website; or www.jephcote@cardiff.ac.uk

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