2018/19 has been another positive year for ColegauCymru, delivering successful events, political engagements and meetings, and a second consecutive Annual Conference.
The main focus of my role is to facilitate public affairs engagement for colleges, and our Cross Party Group meetings and “drop in sessions” have been instrumental in providing a platform for discussion and debate on college activity.
The three cross party group (CPG) meetings held in 2018/19 covered; Delivering Inclusive Further Education, Focus on Mental Health, and Funding for the Future. Each meeting drew an audience of 50 delegates, including Assembly Members, Principals, business leaders and wider education stakeholders. I’d like to thank John Griffiths AM for his continuous support as Chair of our group, and look forward to working with him and his team again in the next academic year.
Our political engagement went further during 18/19 to include three drop in sessions at the Senedd. In collaboration with Positif, AMs were invited to join college Principals to discuss matters concerning them. These informal sessions had a broad theme to begin conversations, however members were free to discuss any issue affecting them and their constituency. At least 10 AMs and three Principals attended each session, and due to their popularity, these sessions will continue in 19/20. It was a pleasure to collaborate with Positif again this year, and I look forward to continuing this work next year. Building and maintaining these positive relationships with Assembly Members is crucial to ColegauCymru’s political engagement strategy for the year ahead, and will continue to be one of my main priorities.
Focussing on specific subject matters allowed for an opportunity to delve into the detail of college provision on construction and sport and wellbeing. This work aligned with our key priority sector areas, and linked well to the review of qualifications in construction. Chaired by David Melding AM, 16 members of various colleges and construction institutions were in attendance. Discussions from this event helped to inform the content of the Welsh Conservatives housing strategy, “Housing a Nation”.
The sport and wellbeing roundtable, chaired by the Deputy Minister Dafydd Elis-Thomas, brought together college sport staff, sporting organisations such as Welsh Netball and Disability Sport Wales, and government officials. Discussions concentrated on ways of motivating inactive learners, the BlwBo (2017) review, and innovative ways of delivering to hard to reach groups. Learner Voice was a crucial element to this event, and it was beneficial to hear from young ambassadors from the NPTC Group, who shared their experiences of promoting and providing sports activities to those who are most inactive. The Deputy Minister suggested revisiting the issues raised in six months’ time. The next meeting will take place in November 2019.
The Welsh Assembly continues to call on ColegauCymru to provide evidence on inquiries. Representative from the ColegauCymru team and wider FE staff gave evidence in four sessions during 18/19 (Regional Skills Partnerships, supporting and promoting the Welsh Language, research and innovation, and the status of the Welsh Bacc qualification). ColegauCymru welcomes these opportunities and is keen to continue participating in future inquiries.
In October 2018, ColegauCymru took part in Colleges Week as part of the wider #LoveOurColleges campaign. This was an opportunity to highlight the range of exceptional work that goes on in Welsh colleges, and the inspirational staff that make it all possible. Colleges Week was our opportunity to call on Welsh Government for better investment in colleges, and fair pay for college staff. The following month, the then Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan, announced that the Welsh Government "will be providing £8 million in extra funding to enable further education lecturers to be awarded a pay deal which is commensurate to that received by school teachers”. This positive outcome from the campaign was welcomed.
The FE sector has been praised on many occasions during plenary this year, and ColegauCymru is heartened to hear this positive recognition for the sector. The Minister for Education said, “The FE sector is one of the strengths of the Welsh education system”, while the First Minister praised Merthyr College saying, “Merthyr College is one of the great success stories of devolution”. These positive comments are increasingly important as we start building our manifesto for the 2021 Assembly elections. There is, however, still work to be done with pay and workload being some of our key priorities for the next academic year. We hope colleges and the FE sector continue to receive the recognition it deserves, and remain, as Eluned Morgan said, “in a far better state than the FE system over the border”.
Looking ahead to 2019/20 I will continue to build on the strong relationships I currently have with AMs, and I look forward to creating new links with their teams and committee clerks. Going into a year of manifesto planning, these relationships will be crucial to my work and to the priorities of the organisation as a whole. I’m eager to see what challenges and opportunities the year ahead brings!