Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents


2  Further education

Further education policy

3. Further education is post-16 education that is distinct from secondary school education and from university-provided higher education. The decision to take further education out of the hands of local authorities through the Education Reform Act 1988 and the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 frustrated and ended the developing trend towards tertiary education in Wales and left further education relatively isolated within the Welsh education environment. There is clearly a need to reconnect further education, or to build on the connections where they exist, both with schools and higher education institutions in Wales. Further education is primarily provided via tuition in further education institutions and through work-based learning. The Welsh Assembly Government plans and commissions further education in Wales, and its strategy for education, The Learning Country: Vision into Action, differs from that in England. The development of its policies is being informed by a number of reviews and consultations including the recommendations of the Webb Review, a review into the mission and purpose of further education in Wales which was published in December 2007.[3] Further education policy is also closely linked with the Welsh Assembly Government's skills and employment strategy, Skills That Work for Wales, which forms its response to the UK wide Leitch skills review[4]. Several policy papers have emerged from Skills That Work for Wales, including consultations on reducing the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training in Wales,[5] and on formalising collaborative arrangements between schools and colleges via the setting up of joint committees.[6]

4. In addition, a draft Measure to increase the number of subject options for students aged 14 and 16 is currently being scrutinised by an Assembly Committee with a view to its being implemented from September 2009.[7] In September 2008, the Welsh Assembly Government published a paper, Transforming Education and Training Provision in Wales, which proposed a radical transformation and restructure of post-16 education in Wales.[8] In the same month it launched a consultation on adult community learning, A New Approach to Adult Community Learning, to seek views on a proposed new approach to this area of provision.[9]

5. Further education policy in England has also been subject to recent review and development. In March 2006, the Department for Education and Skills published the Further Education Reform White Paper which set out a strategy to raise skill and qualification levels for young people and adults in England.[10] The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), created in 2007 in a Departmental reorganisation, is now responsible for further education provision in England. The Learning and Skills Council (LSC), a non-departmental public body established in 2001, currently has responsibility for the planning, commissioning and funding of post-16 education and training (excluding higher education), but there are proposals to abolish the Learning and Skills Council and transfer the responsibility for funding 16-19 provision to local authorities in England. Given that there was strong objection at the time to further education being taken away from local authorities in Wales, the role of local authorities should be reconsidered in Wales in the context of the Webb Report and policy developments which flow from it.

6. There is, then, increasing policy divergence between Wales and England. The national organisation representing further education colleges and institutions in Wales, fforwm, drew our attention to some of the differences:

There are a number of specific initiatives in Wales such as the development of the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification; the Welsh Assembly Grant system for learners attending FE or higher education; recognition of the Welsh language and the importance of Welsh-medium or bilingual education. In England there has been Train to Gain, the development of Centres for Excellence and Skills Academies and policies such as the presumption that a high performing school seeking to open a sixth form will have its application accepted.[11]

7. There have also been significant differences in the levels of funding for further education in Wales and England since devolution. The Webb Report noted that there had been a downward trend in the level of post-16 programme funding in Wales since 2001/02, with less being spent per head of population in Wales than in England.[12] In addition, the report noted that in 2007/08, post-16 capital expenditure in Wales was less than 3% that of England (whereas the population of Wales at that time was 5.84% that of England). It suggested that £200 million would be required to upgrade the high proportion of accommodation categorised as poor, and that there was a serious danger of the estate being allowed to fall into decay.[13]

8. One specific difference in funding priorities is that the Welsh Assembly Government has invested in lecturers' pay so as to achieve parity with schoolteachers. One English college close to the border reported that the higher pay available to lecturers in Wales had caused staff to leave for colleges in Wales, and had made it difficult to recruit more staff in England.[14] Witnesses commented that in Wales, the additional investment in pay had reduced the amount of funding available for other purposes such as facilities and equipment.[15] [16]

9. The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils told us that:

Differences in funding and priorities between nations, and in FE, between regions and sectors, impacts adversely on student choice and access. It can also disadvantage employers making some sectors less attractive to students. For example; lower resourcing of FE in Wales, lower levels of funding for apprenticeships, and varying levels of tuition fees.[17]

10. In the further education sector, there is now a significant policy divergence between Wales and England. The different policy and funding priorities result in different opportunities and challenges for learners in the two nations.

Student access to cross-border further education

11. The great majority of further education learners are recruited locally, on the basis of 'catchment areas'.[18] Statistics provided by fforwm and the Association of Colleges indicate that the number of 16-18 year olds crossing the border from Wales to attend further education in England is about the same as the number travelling from England to Wales: for 2005/06 the numbers were respectively 763 and 760. The numbers for adult learners (aged 19 and over) were higher (4,013 from Wales and 5,195 into Wales in 2005/06).[19] [20] Of fforwm's 25 member institutions in Wales, all but two had some English-domiciled learners in 2005/06, predictably with the colleges closest to the border with England recording the greatest numbers.[21] According to the Association of Colleges, the majority of Welsh-domiciled learners studying at English colleges were attending colleges within a few miles of the border and other, more distant, colleges provided specific courses which also attracted Welsh-domiciled learners. Fforwm suggested that the English-domiciled learners who chose to study in Wales did so either because of geographical convenience, or because of the specialist courses offered, or because their workplaces were in Wales.[22] The Association of Colleges told us that over 40% of the learners at West Cheshire College learned at their workplace (rather than at the College campus), and that "quite a lot" of them were living in Wales but working in England.[23]

12. The Association of Colleges stated that some English colleges close to the border served communities in Wales, but that those colleges were restricted in their ability to recruit Welsh-domiciled learners because of Learning and Skills Council funding guidance. The guidance places the following restrictions on English colleges wishing to recruit learners from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland:

Colleges and providers are reminded that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own funding arrangements. There may be exceptional circumstances where, on occasion, individual Scottish or Welsh learners may wish to travel to or reside in England to study when specialist provision is not offered locally. The LSC has reciprocal arrangements with the funding councils for Wales and Scotland for colleges and providers close to the borders. However, it is not expected that colleges and providers in England will recruit entire groups of learners from outside their local area.[24]

Welsh Assembly Government guidance includes an equivalent restriction for Welsh colleges seeking to recruit English learners. This states that:

… it is not expected that colleges and providers in Wales will recruit entire groups of learners from outside their area.[25]

Neither of the guidance documents contains an explanation of the circumstances in which the provision of reciprocal arrangements would or would not be acceptable. We regard both sets of funding guidance as unhelpful and inappropriate and urge all authorities to see ease of access across borders, including access across regional borders within England, as something to be encouraged.

13. Ms Sara Mogel, representing the Association of Colleges, stated that the guidance limited the ability of colleges to provide information about opportunities available to prospective learners, because "in terms of recruiting, English border colleges cannot go into Welsh schools even if the college is closest to that Welsh school."[26] The Association was unable to quantify the extent of the problem, stating that:

As colleges based in England … are unable to advertise their courses direct to potential learners over the border, Wales-domiciled learners may be unaware of the full range of options available. We do not have any specific evidence, other than anecdotal, of potential learners remaining to study in Wales because of a lack of information about courses in England.[27]

14. The Association of Colleges pointed out that learners often have to cross the border in order to access a specialist course which is not available to them in their home nation:

For example, learners who live in west or central Cheshire who want to study aerospace engineering would probably choose Deeside College as no nearby college in England offers this course. Equally, if a potential student in North Wales wants to study hospital pharmacy they would choose West Cheshire College as no local Welsh college offers it. A primary objective of the education system in both England and Wales must be that these learners are able to access the courses of their choice.[28]

The Association expressed the view that when a learner's choice of course was only available across the border, then every reasonable effort should be made by the education providers, the funding bodies and local authorities to ensure that the learner was able to exercise his or her choice.[29] Fforwm told us that in general there was an adequate range of specialist courses offered by Welsh FE institutions, which met the needs of the vast majority of learners.[30] There were some very specific cases where courses were only available in England, and where "it would not make sense for colleges (in Wales) to invest in if that provision is being made available in England".[31]

15. Fforwm's view was that a more systematic coordination of cross-border provision was unnecessary, and it quoted the comments of one of its college principals:

We are not conscious of the 'border' for the vast majority of the time, and in an education context the current arrangements seem to be working well in that they are flexible enough to ensure that individual learners and employers get the learning they want.[32]

Fforwm added that:

The current arrangements seem to be working satisfactorily in that learners choose to attend provision that suits their needs. There is a risk that establishing formal cross-border coordination might lead to bureaucratic obstacles or planning systems which might make provision more difficult.[33]

We are not entirely convinced that cross-border arrangements are satisfactory as they stand as they seem more focussed on the convenience of providers than the objective of inspiring would-be students.

16. Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, told us that he agreed it was important that reciprocal arrangements were in place to provide finance for students who did cross the border to attend further education, but that it was not envisaged that large groups of students would need to do so.[34] Again, 'need' seems an unduly restrictive concept and the wishes of students and their ability to gain access to the right course for their personal aims and those of their employers should be paramount.

17. There is a not only a need for some further education learners to cross the border between Wales and England to attend college, but it should be welcomed and encouraged. Geographical convenience for those living close to the border, or a wish to attend a specialist course which is not available locally and conveniently in the learner's home country are not the only reasons for crossing the border. There are advantages to colleges and learners on both sides of the border if this type of cross-border provision is made available when required and driven by learner and employer choice rather than by regulation. The evidence suggests to us that some processes to enable this to operate are in place, but that the border does act as a barrier, or at least as a perceived barrier, to colleges in their recruitment and to students in their search for the right course. We recommend that the Learning and Skills Council and the Welsh Assembly Government take steps to improve the level of cooperation, and that they give due consideration to cross-border issues when reviewing coverage and student demand in respect of further education provision on both sides of the border, particularly when local authorities in England take over responsibilities which currently rest with the Learning and Skills Council. In addition, we recommend that they encourage further education institutions to provide information to all potential or prospective learners, bearing in mind that the nearest convenient college or nearest provider of specialist courses could be across the border.

Links between employers and further education institutions

18. A key role of further education institutions is to work with employers and learners to raise skill levels and thus develop the economy and increase levels of prosperity. Links with employers are clearly a crucial aspect of the work of further education institutions, as explained by fforwm:

The scope of employer engagement in FE in Wales is vast and covers work with micro, small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as large multi-national companies. It can be part of the colleges WBL (work-based learning) contract; bespoke training; curriculum links through entrepreneurship champions; through the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification (WBQ); through learners' work experience programmes.[35]

SECTOR SKILLS COUNCILS

19. Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) have been established over the last six years to represent the skills and training interests of specific economic business sectors throughout the UK. They engage with employers, identify the current and future employment and skills needs of their businesses and develop a common framework of standards of competence to help employees identify the qualifications and training required for their area of employment. The Sector Skills Development Agency was formerly responsible for funding, supporting and monitoring Sector Skills Councils and for overseeing industries that fell outside a Sector Skills Council remit. From 1 April 2008, the Sector Skills Development Agency was replaced by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the Alliance for Sector Skills Councils.

20. The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils explained how Sector Skills Councils work across the UK, in terms of liaising between employers and education providers throughout the four nations:

The SSCs understand that education and skills are devolved functions and recognise the need to work on a four nation basis. In fact, SSCs are the UK 'glue' in the skills system. Large national companies wish to see consistency and transferability of skills across the UK, whilst smaller businesses need their specific needs met more locally. All demand quality and transparency in qualifications that are offered in both HE and FE. SSCs are the crucial interface between employers and the education providers.[36]

21. Mr Alan Woods, CEO, Skills for Justice explained how the Sector Skills Councils' policy formulation took account of the different priorities and issues of the four nations :

…the governance arrangements within each individual organisation are set up so that each of the four countries has a voice within the governance arrangements of the individual organisations themselves. It is something within the relicensing of all Sector Skills Councils which Leitch recommends that is going to be a high priority for the United Kingdom on Employment and Skills to take cognisance of, so that the voices of all four nations have equal weight within the process.[37]

22. Ms Michelle Creed of Lifelong Learning UK, advised us that managing a very diverse remit within the resources provided to Sector Skills Councils was "challenging" and that there were capacity issues, both in Wales and in some regions of England.[38] CBI Wales suggested that the capacity problem was more acute in Wales and that there was less frequent liaison between employers and Sector Skills Councils in Wales than in England.[39]

23. Sector Skills Councils play an essential role in terms of achieving many of the Leitch recommendations relating to increasing employer engagement.[40] The Welsh Assembly Government skills strategy describes Sector Skills Councils as having a "key influence" in terms of shaping the employment training system, describes them as a "strategic interface between employers and the Assembly Government" and notes that "A strong network of Sector Skills Councils in Wales (SSCs), working closely with employer bodies, will help to strengthen the employer voice in decisions on skills provision." [41]

24. Sector Skills Councils play a key role with regard to consistency and transferability of skills throughout the UK. We believe that they should play a bigger role in coordinating cross-border issues for employers arising from policy divergences. We are not convinced that the Sector Skills Councils are adequately resourced to fulfil their role, particularly when taking into account the need for each Sector Skills Council to have the capacity to give due regard to territorial differences in skills policies.

GOVERNMENT FUNDED TRAINING

25. Train to Gain (T2G) is a skills programme run in England by the Learning and Skills Council to support employers and help them improve the skills of their employees as a route to improving business performance. Professor Deian Hopkin, Chair of Universities UK Skills Task Group, provided the following information about the scheme:

The total budget for T2G in the 2007/8 financial year is £527 million and £657 million in 2008/9 reaching approximately £1 billion in 2010/11. … Further education colleges are central to this provision and most, if not all, FE colleges in England are providing training …[42]

26. Wales has its own Workforce Development Programme, and employers (and their employees) located in Wales are not eligible for support through Train to Gain.[43] This is the case even if the employee works for a UK-wide organisation. Skills for Justice told us that, even though the prison service is a reserved matter (that is, not devolved to the National Assembly), prison staff based in Wales could not benefit from Train to Gain funds, whereas prison staff in England were able to attend leadership and development training which was financed by Train to Gain.[44] The Association of Colleges pointed out that whilst colleges in England could offer commercial provision to businesses located in Wales (where the costs of the training were fully met by the employer), they could not offer the Government-funded programmes, even if the college was the most conveniently located facility for the employer, or if it offered a particular specialist course.[45] Ms Sara Mogel, Principal, West Cheshire College, and representative of the Association of Colleges said that:

If the student is an individual who approaches my college because we can offer them a particular skill that maybe Deeside College cannot offer them then usually there is a way around it. If they are an employer who has a cohort of students then there is not, and that is the real issue. It is about making sure that the border does not become a barrier to both employers achieving their business aims and individuals achieving their own personal aims.[46]

27. Summit Skills, the Sector Skills Council for the building services engineering sector said that the marketing information and access arrangements for Train to Gain were better than those for the Workforce Development Fund in Wales:

T2G (Train to Gain) in England has seen a significant uptake of training in our sector, it's not perfect but then nothing is. The workforce development fund is … one of the biggest secrets around, employers don't know about it. No advertising from WAG on it at all. The ones that do know about it think the process is complicated and not worth the hassle. Training providers who work cross-border constantly ask for T2G in Wales. The system is well marketed, simple to access and has engaged employers; this is not true for the workforce development fund.[47]

Fforwm described the method by which funding for employee training was allocated in Wales as "a barrier to responsiveness", adding that it needed to be "more flexible to enable partnerships between FE and employers to grow".[48] Dr Graystone, Chief Executive of fforwm, told us that his organisation hoped that the Welsh Assembly Government would "move towards incentivising colleges to work much more closely with employers to increase the number of adults receiving training in the long-term."[49]

28. However, Mr David Rosser, Director, CBI Wales suggested that there were good and bad aspects of both schemes:

We have had mixed reports on Train to Gain from employers in England. Some have found it very useful, some have found some of the structures a bit too rigid for what they as individual employers need in terms of the qualifications. The Workforce Development Programme Wales, as intended, seems to offer a high degree of flexibility, but the funds put towards it are pretty small currently and we look to see with interest how that develops. It strikes us in a number of areas in education policy in Wales that good initiatives that we would support sometimes fail to be taken forward through general lack of funding, so this is probably the latest in that line.[50]

29. Professor Deian Hopkin commented that the development of different policies for employer engagement in Wales and England could limit the potential for cross-border collaboration:

… it appears that the absence of programmes in Wales similar to HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) or Train to Gain limits the degree to which Welsh and English institutions can collaborate on programmes relating to business and development. While Wales has developed its own strategies for innovation, enterprise and skills, there is no obvious alignment between these and similar programmes in England and this may make joint-ventures or collaborations difficult.[51]

30. Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, saw it as an appropriate consequence of devolution that Wales and England should each pursue its own priorities with regard to its constituents and businesses.[52] However, he agreed that it was important to provide employers with clear information about the different available schemes:

We need to do our level best to ensure that people do understand the differences [between Train to Gain and the Workforce Development Programme]. … The Welsh Assembly Government has taken a view of what it feels its businesses within Wales require … We have taken a different decision within England and, yes, we need to ensure that people are not confused between the two offers …[53]

31. The evidence suggests that at least some aspects of the Train to Gain scheme are working better than the Workforce Development Fund. One advantage of devolution is that the different administrations can learn from each other's successes and failures and we suggest that the Welsh Assembly Government might consider the lessons to be learned from the implementation of Train to Gain. In particular, the Workforce Development Fund should be more actively advertised and better funded.

32. Employers need clearer information about the government training schemes available on each side of the border. This is especially important for smaller employers in border areas and employers with sites in both Wales and England. We recommend that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Welsh Assembly Government work together to ensure that employers understand the support available to them, how they can gain access to that support and to treat the border as an opportunity for comparison and cross-fertilisation of best practice rather than as a barrier.

QUALIFICATIONS

33. The Sector Skills Councils told us that employers wished to see greater parity of qualifications and training on either side of the border. [54] Ms Sue Hunter, Skills for Justice stated that:

There are slight differences between the credit and qualifications frameworks ... Whilst the difference between the English framework and the Welsh framework is not as marked as the difference between the English and Scottish frameworks, Sector Skills Councils and employers have to make sense of the three different qualification and credit frameworks. Not only that, but those also have to be articulated to the European qualifications and credit framework. For employers and, I think, probably learners too there is a huge area for confusion here.[55]

Ms Michelle Creed of Lifelong Learning UK, explained how Sector Skills Councils were working to develop qualification systems which were transferable across-borders within the UK. [56] The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils stated that it would "welcome equal influence on the content of qualification frameworks in Wales as they are now achieving in England".[57] Lifelong Learning UK Sector Skills Council told us that it supported "the need to rationalise and audit the number of vocational and vocationally related qualifications that are currently available for all Sectors", adding that the Leitch report had "highlighted that the number of different courses/qualifications available makes choosing the correct programme of study very difficult".[58] For example, Lifelong Learning UK Sector Skills Council, drew our attention to what it described as a growing divergence in the qualifications requirements for further education teachers in Wales and England.[59]

34. Airbus told us that it had concerns that different approaches were being taken by the different administrations with regard to developing the vocational qualification system. It stated that "there are fears from employers that if there is not some common agreement we could end up with an extremely confusing and disparate qualification system. For employers like Airbus who employ large numbers of apprentices, the changes being proposed are seen as a significant potential risk."[60] Mr Gary Griffiths, Manager for Apprenticeships and Vocational Competencies stated that Airbus's preference was to have a system which it could use across its sites in both Wales and England.[61]

35. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills explained that the UK Vocational Qualifications Reform Programme was established in February 2006, and that it was "being introduced in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Scotland", the aim being to create a system which is "more flexible and responsive to learner and employer needs, more inclusive and less bureaucratic".[62] With regard to this and other qualification reforms, the Department advised us that "Officials in England and Wales keep each other informed. They will be monitoring the impact of the different systems on pupils moving or seeking to learn across the borders".[63] In November, the Welsh Assembly Government announced that a common framework for vocational learning, the Qualifications and Credit Framework, would be implemented in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.[64]

36. A specific issue raised by witnesses was the ability of further education institutions to award foundation degrees. When foundation degrees were launched in September 2001, the great majority were delivered in partnerships which involved a validating institution with degree awarding powers (a higher education institution) and one or more providers, usually further education colleges, as well as businesses and employers. The Further Education and Training Act 2007, gave further education colleges in England but not in Wales the power to validate their own foundation degrees, subject to Privy Council approval. Higher Education Wales expressed reservations about granting foundation degree awarding powers to further education institutions in Wales, [65] but fforwm suggested that if this power were not to be granted to colleges in Wales, "it could lead to English border colleges putting on their own foundation degree courses which could be targeted at learners in Wales".[66] CBI Wales supported further education colleges being given the power to award foundation degrees "where they can demonstrate that they operate sufficient quality standards".[67] During the course of our inquiry (in July 2008), the Welsh Assembly Government's First Minister, Rhodri Morgan AM, announced that his Government intended to seek legislative competence to enable it to legislate to provide for further education institutions in Wales to have the power to award foundation degrees.[68]

37. Given the relatively small size of many further education colleges in Wales, we believe that it is essential to aim at the highest quality and that further education colleges must be encouraged to work with higher education institutions and for such cooperation to be required rather than encouraging separate development. This is particularly important in view of the recent change of course signalled by a Ministerial announcement that further education colleges in Wales may be given powers to award foundation degrees.

APPRENTICESHIPS

38. In January 2008, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families published a consultation paper, World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All: The Government's Strategy for the Future of Apprenticeships in England. This set out the Government's plans to improve the quality and expand the number and range of apprenticeships available for young people in England. In July, the Departments published the Draft Apprenticeship Bill which set out a statutory basis for the apprenticeships programme, defined measures to ensure that apprenticeships would meet uniformly high standards and described the functions of the new National Apprenticeships Service. Whilst there is a statement in the Bill that it applies to England and Wales,[69] some parts of the Bill clearly do not apply to Wales. For example the Bill describes the duties on the Learning and Skills Council (which has an England-wide remit) to secure sufficient and appropriate apprenticeship places but makes no mention of the Welsh Assembly Government, which would have responsibility for equivalent functions in Wales. Whilst the draft Bill took account of the English strategy, World-class Apprenticeships, there were no apparent links with the Welsh Assembly Government's skills strategy, Skills That Work for Wales, even though the Welsh document devoted a full chapter to apprenticeships. The written statement by Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, included a comment that the draft Bill would "strengthen Apprenticeships in England",[70] adding further to the lack of clarity about the geographical extent of the Draft Bill.

39. Witnesses raised concerns about disparities between the apprenticeship schemes in Wales and in England, and about the lack of clarity regarding the impact of decisions made in England on employers in Wales. The Energy and Utility Skills Council identified the funding of apprentice training as a particular cross-border challenge, stating that:

Employers in the sector have to deal with cross-border funding inconsistencies, and employers with their own excellent in house systems have, in the past, turned away from government funding because of a heavy burden of bureaucracy which was exacerbated by audit and quality checks carried out by stakeholders from different departments with duplications across the nations. This confusion over funding may well turn employers away from recruiting apprentices.[71]

40. Airbus pointed out that, as a cross-border business with sites in both Wales and England, it was required to interact with the two different skills strategies of Wales and England, whilst trying to provide equal opportunity to all of its employees, wherever they were located. One circumstance where this was difficult was in the development of adult apprenticeships, because the proposed level of funding for adults from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was significantly less than that available in Wales.[72] Airbus also commented on the proposed introduction of a National Apprenticeship Service in England and stated that it would have an immediate impact on employers with a cross-border business. It listed a number of concerns about the proposals for apprenticeships in England, and noted that it was awaiting the response from the Welsh Assembly Government with regard to any similar changes in Wales. It stated that:

Until Airbus UK and other employers fully understand what the Welsh strategy for apprenticeships entails and how it will dovetail into the far reaching changes being proposed in England we will not be able to fully develop our skills strategy for the 21st century.[73]

41. Airbus also suggested that there was a need to improve cross-border marketing of apprenticeships:

Apprenticeships still appear to be considered by teachers and parents as an option for the less academically able student, and careers advisers are seen to be there to support the students who aren't academically capable of going on to further/higher education. The marketing that we carry out with Careers Wales and Connexions therefore, often doesn't reach the high-achievers we want. We feel this is a UK issue, rather than an English/Welsh one, but one that could be better addressed with a common, coordinated Careers Wales and Connexions approach.[74]

42. There is bound to be some divergence in qualification systems and apprenticeship programmes between Wales and England and the proposed Apprenticeships Bill seems likely to widen these. This creates further problems for employers whose businesses are close to, or straddle the border. A lack of clarity with regard to the geographical extent of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill suggests to us that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills paid inadequate regard to the implications of devolution when developing its apprenticeships policies. This is unacceptable. We recommend that the Department works more closely with the Welsh Assembly Government when it comes to drafting the final version of the Bill. Similarly, it is important for the Welsh Assembly Government to engage with and seek to influence the Department at an early stage of policy development. In the final analysis, the overriding objective should be to equip learners with a qualification that is recognised on both sides of the border.

Cross-border coordination

43. A common theme throughout all of the cross-border further education issues which were raised by witnesses was the need for better coordination between the Welsh Assembly Government and Whitehall Departments with regard to the development and implementation of policies. Airbus requested that government departments in Wales and in England communicate clearly any proposed policy changes so that employers are able to understand them, and ensure that their workforces are equipped for the needs of future business.[75] Witnesses also identified a need for careful discussion of the likely impact of policies on both sides of the border, before decisions were made, rather than merely providing information once policies had been agreed and implemented. For example, fforwm was concerned that the proposed transfer of responsibility for funding of 16-18 education from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities in England could create difficulties for Welsh colleges in border areas.[76] The transfer could mean that policy variations between different local authorities might develop, and that cross-border issues might be dealt with less consistently. The Association of Colleges agreed that colleges on both sides of the border would need to work to ensure that the transfer did not limit opportunities for young learners[77] and suggested that the consultation document could usefully have raised cross-border issues.[78]

44. Other witnesses made more general observations about strategic coordination and communication. CBI Wales commented that where policies diverge there ought to be greater joint working to ensure that both parties made clear to businesses operating in Wales the different funding and administrative arrangements being put in place[79] and suggested that there was "a growing need for greater strategic coordination to plan and deliver better public services".[80]

45. Cross-border coordination in terms of monitoring the development and consequences of policy differences is clearly important. We received assurances that coordination mechanisms were in place, but it has proved difficult to find evidence that intention is matched in practice, and employers are yet to be convinced. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills told us that it had regular contact with the devolved administrations on policy areas such as "the 14-19 agenda, qualifications reforms and the implementation of the Leitch reform, where both countries are developing similar policies, but targeted to their particular needs".[81] The Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills in the Welsh Assembly Government commented that "the Leitch Review of UK Skills has required extensive cross-border working on policy and administration matters as 'skills' is devolved fully to the Welsh Assembly Government".[82]

46. Our inquiry has persuaded us that there is a need for greater joint working to consider the impact of proposed new policies relating to further education on both sides of the border, before decisions are made. The evidence shows that there is also a need for better and more timely communication of policies to employers, so that they can consider how any changes will affect their businesses and to enable them to influence the design of courses and qualifications. In particular, officials in Wales and both in Whitehall and at regional level in England need to be outward looking and sensitive to the realities of our long and porous border. It should be a cause for celebration and cooperation rather than an obstacle to efficiency and effectiveness.

47. Finally, there is a need for greater transparency in the way that the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Government and their respective agencies collaborate with emphasis on recognising the advantages of co-operation as well as distinctiveness and divergence.



3   Promise and Performance: The Report of the Independent Review of the Mission and Purpose of Further Education in Wales, December 2007, ("The Webb Report") Back

4   HM Treasury (December 2006) Prosperity for all in the Global Economy - World Class Skills, Final Report of the Leitch review of skills Back

5   Delivering Skills that Work for Wales: Reducing the Proportion of Young people Not in Education, Employment or Training in Wales, Welsh Assembly Government 2008 Back

6   Delivering Skills that Work for Wales: Draft Regulations for Collaborative Arrangements Between FE Institutions and FE Institutions and Schools, Welsh Assembly Government 2008 Back

7   Learning and Skills Measure (Wales) 2008 Back

8   Delivering Skills that Work for Wales : Transforming Education and Training Provision in Wales, Welsh Assembly Government 2008 Back

9   Delivering Skills That Work for Wales: A New Approach to Adult Community Learning, Welsh Assembly Government, Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills 2008 Back

10   FE Reform White Paper Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances, Department for Education and Skills, March 2006 Back

11   Ev 137 Back

12   The Webb Report, p.103 Back

13   The Webb Report, p.104 Back

14   Ev 112 Back

15   Ev 85 Back

16   Q 710 Back

17   Ev 83 Back

18   Ev 188 Back

19   Ev 140 Back

20   Ev 112 Back

21   Ev 136 Back

22   Ev 137 Back

23   Q 638 Back

24   LSC Learner Eligibility Guidance 2007/08, 17 May 2007, paragraph 27 Back

25   The National Planning and Funding System: A Guide, paragraph 8.48, Welsh Assembly Government Back

26   Qq 645 and 646 Back

27   Ev 114 Back

28   Ev 113 Back

29   Ev 113 Back

30   Q 697 Back

31   Q 697 Back

32   Ev 137 Back

33   Ev 135 Back

34   Q 939 Back

35   FE Review - supplementary submissions, Paper 3, p.1, www.fforwm.ac.uk  Back

36   Ev 81 Back

37   Q 824 Back

38   Q 826 Back

39   Q 1029 Back

40   The Leitch Report, p .139 Back

41   Skills That Work for Wales Strategy and Action Plan, Welsh Assembly Government, July 2008, pp 6, 69, 70 Back

42   Ev 157 Back

43   Ev 131 Back

44   Ev 100 Back

45   Ev 113 Back

46   Q 684 Back

47   Ev 95 Back

48   FE Review - supplementary submissions, Paper 3, p1, www.fforwm.ac.uk  Back

49   Q 720 Back

50   Q 1027 Back

51   Ev 162 Back

52   Q 940 Back

53   Q 941 Back

54   Q 839 Back

55   Q 841 Back

56   Q 823 Back

57   Ev 82 Back

58   Ev 86 Back

59   Ev 85 Back

60   Ev 78 Back

61   Q 1062 Back

62   Ev 131 Back

63   Ev 133 Back

64   http://new.wales.gov.uk/news/latest/081114learners/?lang=en  Back

65   Higher Education Wales response to the Welsh Assembly Government Skills That Work for Wales Consultation, April 2008, para 18 Back

66   Ev 139 Back

67   Q 1025 Back

68   Welsh Assembly Government Cabinet Statements, The Welsh Assembly Government's Legislative Programme 2008-09, 15 July 2008 Back

69   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, July 2008, Section 29 and paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes Back

70   Written Ministerial Statement, 16 July 2008, House of Lords, Apprenticeships Bill (Draft) Back

71   Ev 107 Back

72   Ev 77 Back

73   Ev 80 Back

74   Ev 80 Back

75   Ev 81 Back

76   Q 716 Back

77   Q 653 Back

78   Q 655 Back

79   Ev 76 Back

80   Ev 118 Back

81   Ev 120 Back

82   Ev 196 Back


 
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