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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860-875)


8 JULY 2008

  Q860  Mark Williams: The frustration is where we have—your words "divergent funding" issues.

  Mr Woods: I think that does not help when businesses are trying to understand the difference between a Welsh Baccalaureate and an English diploma, even for the same subject where they then start at different times; or that there is Train to Gain funding which is available in England but not available in Wales. Those things are difficult for us to articulate.

  Q861  Mark Williams: On a personal level, going back to those individual companies specifically on the border, it must be immensely frustrating.

  Ms Hunter: It is immensely frustrating and I suppose the bottom line for business, if there were two equally competitive offers either side of the border in terms of what is being offered, and the quality and content is right, then my guess is that the business would opt for whichever one was the most cost effective at that point. So there will be an imbalance.

  Q862  Mr David Jones: Mr Woods, you will be glad to hear that we are going on to specialist training now! You mentioned briefly that, for example, there are no higher education institutions in Wales delivering higher education institutions in Wales delivering veterinary science courses, and presumably that is only one example. Are learners from Wales who want to attend specialist training courses usually able to access them? If not, what sort of factors are an impediment to them obtaining such access?

  Mr Woods: From the evidence that has been supplied to the Committee there are issues where they have access to training; there are good examples as well as the example which you quoted from Lantra, saying that there is no provision. There is the evidence from colleagues which talks about the airbus project, which is with the Manufacturing Sector Skills Sector. I think what again is happening is that because we are based upon a sectoral basis employers are looking for relationships with providers of learning that can deliver their needs, and you can pick out examples where it is working well and you can pick out examples where it is working less well, and that is evidenced throughout the report. To try and say that on a global basis is that good and bad in the context of Wales, I think that is difficult to do. We, for example, within the justice sector that we have good relationships; there are other colleagues, obviously with things like veterinary science that say there is not a good relationship because that offer is not just there.

  Q863  Mr David Jones: Can we look at it more globally rather than in respect of your sector? For example, you have mentioned veterinary science and would have thought that tuition fees would be some sort of disincentive to students who wish to study veterinary sciences having to come from Wales; is that what you are finding?

  Ms Hunter: I think there is some evidence of that but there is another issue in that the colleges and the universities will not put on a programme that they cannot guarantee a break-even number of students. So if your pool of students is quite limited and out of that pool of students only one or two want to do a particular programme it is not worth the university actually offering that programme.

  Q864  Mr David Jones: To pause briefly there, that could actually impact upon students from England in that particular case, who would also be unable to access that particular training course?

  Ms Hunter: Yes, it depends on the particular programme and the university and what the catchment area is and whether they can actually get the sufficient number of individuals on to the programme—whether it is at a college or a university.

  Q865  Mr David Jones: How would you say that cross-border access to specialist training could be improved? Is it just down to finance or are there other factors?

  Ms Hunter: I think the Sector Skills Councils have a role to play in this in identifying and working with, as most of us do, with the higher education institutions and defining for them what learning is required in which areas of the country because some needs will be much more localised than others, particularly for some of the other Sector Skills Councils. So I think we have a role to play in identifying and brokering the development of programmes.

  Q866  Mr David Jones: Can you give some examples of the way in which you are actually fulfilling that role?

  Mr Woods: Colleagues from Asset Skills have identified that there are needs, for example, in surveying and planning and they are addressing that by working with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors for accredited courses in surveying and planning at the University of Glamorgan. So there are, I think, examples within the documents that the Committee has received, which are again trying to articulate the employers' needs. Where they identify that there is a skills gap, which we will have published in our Sector Skills Agreements, it is then us trying to work with the providers of learning to actually offer those courses where there are gaps, which then means that there is a progression from somebody taking that learning into the world of work.

  Q867  Mr David Jones: But is there necessarily a gap because the course is available but it just happens to be on the other side of the border. To what extent can you assist learners in accessing training on the other side of the border? It is all very well to create a new course within Wales but what if the student is in North Wales and wants to access the course in England?

  Ms Creed: We have a policy lobby voice as well as a voice that faces the supply side, so where these issues surface and where the employers say that this is becoming an issue for them, and obviously that becomes an employer issue as opposed to an individual learner issue perhaps, we are able to capture that and feed that back in to the policy consultation processes that we go through. Just to give you a specific example of where an SSC has overcome that issue, if I can refer you to the Skills Set's submission, Skills Set are the Sector Skills Council for the creative media industries and they specifically stated, if I can quote: "We have noted instances where specialist training was not available through the FE and HE sector in Wales or indeed its neighbouring English regions. For example, a new entrance programme for the post-production industries that we successfully ran in Wales called First Post was delivered in Wales by the collaboration of a Welsh Company, Barcud Derwen, and a London based training facilitator, Soho Editors, the collaboration provided an opportunity to develop the capacity for specialist post-production training in Wales." That is an example there where Skills Set has actively helped develop the capacity of the system in Wales to be able to provide that specialist training.

  Q868  Mr David Jones: Given your remit though I guess that you would tend not to intervene until it was becoming a problem that looked as if it was going to impact upon employers; is that right?

  Ms Creed: We are set up to be employer-led businesses.

  Q869  Mark Williams: To Lifelong Learning, you have expressed concern about the increasing divergence of the qualification requirement for further education teachers in Wales and England, I think following the new regulation that came into effect last year. What is the nature of the problem and how big a problem is it?

  Ms Creed: Thank you for the opportunity. We are still at very early stages with this agenda because, obviously as you have identified, it only came into play in September 2007. In essence what has happened is the training of teachers for the post compulsory system, so further education, community learning and development, work-based learning, within that FE system used to be joined by statutory instrument for both England and Wales, and were both the same sets of qualifications and the same sets of underpinning standards. In 2005 the Equipping our Teachers for the Future agenda moved the England position to a new level and England pursued the development of their own standards and their own qualifications, driven by the needs that were highlighted within the Ofsted Reports and the FE system. We have as a result of those changes within England, because obviously education and skills is a devolved matter, we have been working with Wales, working with the support of the Assembly Government to review the standards for teachers in Wales, and we have submitted recommendations to the Assembly on what the new teacher qualification framework for Wales should be. There are some differences between the standards and qualifications that employers have said they would like to see because of the different agenda between 14 to 19, for example; and obviously Wales is a bilingual country and has complexities there in terms of bilingual learning delivery. Where the issues require further support at the moment, obviously we are working with the HR managers' network through Fforwm and the principles network through Fforwm to help them look at the implications of cross-boarder labour market mobility. We do not perceive there to be barriers for individuals moving across the system but we do in the short term perceive a need to support employers' understanding what of the new England qualifications they can accept and what the implications are for students that are trained in Wales in terms of moving into the England system. It may well be as a result of the differences that have emerged between England and Wales that there are some additional induction requirements that are required into devolved education systems in both countries, but I would say that that is in hand.

  Q870  Mark Williams: What is the timetable for this? You have discussions but when do you expect some action from the Assembly Government?

  Ms Creed: The Assembly have already the new professional standards for teachers and trainers in Wales and the qualifications framework recommendations is currently with them for review and we expect a response shortly.

  Q871  Mark Williams: How big an issue was that? You said not a huge number of individuals, but how big an issue has this been in terms of cross-border movement of teachers to date?

  Ms Creed: Because of the regulated nature of teacher qualifications, where the immediate impact has been felt has been within, for example, the University of Newport, who previously had a franchise for teacher training provision that stretched across England and Wales because obviously they were working on the basis of the same standards. As a result of the regulatory changes Newport has relinquished elements of its franchise in England and is concentrating on the bulk of its provision, which always has been in Wales. So that is an immediate impact. Obviously there have been some tensions in this transition. As a result of this the role that LL UK has played is that we have established a four nations strategic summit where we bring the senior civil servants from departments for education and skills together, to look at what the implications are for learning delivery, and I would say that in terms of standards for teachers the UK has never had a UK-wide approach before. But we have now brokered agreement across the four governments and we were in Belfast last week actually commencing a project that is going to look at the standards for teacher training across the whole of the UK for the first time, bring it together as a set of national occupational standards for learning delivery and in due course that overarching set of national occupational standards will inform the needs of the four governments, which in an evolving sense will make understanding of the similarities and differences between the qualifications easier for employers and learners to understand.

  Q872  Mark Williams: Not least because Sir Adrian Webb has talked about the need to have ongoing vocational professional development, which obviously is going to lend itself very much to what you said. This is not written in a tablet of stone now, is it, it is going to be reviewed in the future as well.

  Ms Creed: Within England the commitment to continuing professional development and a licence to practise for teachers in the FE system has been established as part of the equipping our teachers for the future agenda. Decisions on licence to practice and commitment to CPD have not yet been taken in Wales, and it is certainly something that employers in the sector are firmly behind, and it is something that we have covered in our sector skills agreement process; so we are on the case.

  Q873  Chairman: I was intrigued and interested in that particular example. Important as it is it is a very highly localised part of the whole debate. It occurs to me that there are very fundamental questions that you have raised today about funding, about qualifications and about policy, and I was interested to hear that this four nation approach is being developed in relation to further education teachers. Where is the actual public debate in terms of Lifelong Learning, in terms of your work, in terms of skills taking place now? There are quite serious developments in terms of funding obligations and policy occurring in Wales and in England, but you are talking about senior civil servants. Is there a body in Wales that actually now raises the question how do we come together and discuss these changes? Is there a sense of introspection or are you actually suffering in silence, or are you actually looking outwards and asking the question? For example, the body that I was associated years ago, which is now called NIACE Dysgu Cymru, a body that usually in days gone by 10 years ago would have been the public forum where learners, employers, trade unions, local authorities all came together to discuss and help to develop policy.

  Ms Creed: An important part of Lifelong Learning UK's governance structure in Wales is our Wales Country Panel. Our Wales Country Panel draws representation from the employers within our footprint, so each of our further education, higher education work-based learning, libraries, archives and information services and community learning and development, which would include, for example, community development, youth work, community-based adult learning, on that Country Panel the director for NIACE Dysgu Cymru is a member, as is John Graystone, who is the Chief Executive of Fforwm, as is the Higher Education Wales Committee, as is the Wales TUC, so on and so forth, through the well-established names and organisations in the Lifelong Learning sector. We meet with that Panel three times a year and we—

  Q874  Chairman: Could you stop a moment? I did not make myself clear. Is that an introspective body or does it actually take account of what is happening across the UK and globally as well?

  Ms Creed: Yes, we do. Certainly as a body we are the sum of our component parts, so NIACE would still have its UK links; it would also have its forums about which you are talking where its networks can come together and offer input on a policy matter, for example. And what we have a function of doing as well as directly accessing our employers and as well as looking to developments in Europe we are able to draw on the combined intellectual capital that those key organisations and groups bring together. So it is quite a complicated network but we are pulling together the component parts of the sector.

  Q875  Chairman: I think there ought to be more public knowledge of what you are doing.

  Mr Woods: Can I just comment upon that question that you asked my colleague Michelle? The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils also has a role in that process of working across the 25 sectors to enable that debate. Although we are employer led with the employers' voice as the one that we are hearing in terms of trying to understand what employers want through the various skills systems throughout the United Kingdom, that debate is managed across those 25 Sector Skills Councils. The challenge, of course, as you say, is then to bring that out into the wider arena as an independent voice and I think that is something that the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils will be looking to do.

  Chairman: Thank you very much all of you for your very challenging evidence this morning; it has been extremely helpful to us in our inquiry on cross-border issues.

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