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Why Welsh targets are an exclusive club;FE Focus;Lifelong learning

The Government aim is misdirected for 83 per cent of adult learners in Wales, says Nigel Horrocks

OF ALL the adults enrolled on FE courses in Wales, only one in six is on a course leading to mainstream academic and vocational qualifications, government figures reveal.

The Further Education Funding Council for Wales figures show that only 1 per cent of learners post-19 are engaged on general national vocational qualifications, 8 per cent on national vocational qualifications and 8 per cent on GCSEs and A-levels.

These qualification routes are the current government obsession and form the core of the national training and education targets.

Yet the targets which are the driving force and benchmark against which performance is being measured exclude 83 per cent of all adult learners in Wales.

Employers and employees need short, modular learning programmes which contribute to appropriate and inclusive performance measures.

Further evidence of the need for a different perspective is provided by the Training and Enterprise Council for the north Wales region. Its analysis of employers in North Wales shows that 97 per cent of firms have fewer than 50 employees.

One-quarter of the workforce is self-employed and 28 per cent is part-time. This gives a clear profile of potential learners - most of whom will not be engaged in "whole" qualifications leading to the current NTETs.

It is time to re-consider the relevance of the current targets. Peter Hain, the Welsh education minister for Wales, chairs the Education and Training Action Group, which is to consult on the lifelong learning targets to be put to the new Welsh Assembly.

In its response to this consultation, the Wales Access Federation (the Welsh Open College Networks) and FFORWM (the association of Welsh colleges) see this as the opportunity for setting lifelong learning targets in an inclusive context.

There is an urgent need for a system of credits which can be accumulated as a universal measure of adult learning. Such a system could be used to set targets which are transparently measurable and accurate. There could be a target (replacing the current NVQ level 2 or its equivalent) to increase the proportion of 19-year-olds with, say, 25 credits at level 2 from one-quarter to one-third of the population.

The attainment target immediately becomes inclusive and enables credits to be accumulated from a variety of sources. The credits gained on a young person's youth action programme, or on a Prince's Trust business start-up programme could be counted in alongside those gained on a GCSE or an NVQ unit.

A certain number of credits in specific subjects could be stipulated, for instance in key skills. A similar approach could be made at other levels and with functional literacy and numeracy.

There is currently a massive amount of learning taking place which does not count towards the current lifelong learning targets. Such targets could also be used to encourage learning throughout the community, not just those in employment. In this way, we can develop and adjust targets and, periodically, through the population census, gain a more accurate picture of individual attainment levels and the capacity of communities (and of the nation) to learn.

The development of the credit-based qualifications framework is a British agenda, but in Wales one in five adult learners in FE is already on credit-based learning programmes.

The National Open College Network, with its new credit-based vocational qualifications, is trying to fill the progression gaps for some learners with credits. Further and higher education partnerships are developing to foster credit-based progression routes.

The qualifications and curriculum authority in Wales is nudging the Welsh Joint Education Committee into action and the other awarding bodies now need to follow suit.

The potential of a credit-based qualifications framework to promote a culture of lifelong learning is huge. What we need now from the Government is a firm ministerial commitment and pragmatic approach to creating a credit and qualifications framework.

Nigel Horrocks is the Director of Lifelong Learning for the Wales Access Federation and FFORWM

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