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Plaid Cymru aiming higher for education

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University: ‘Not the be all and end all’

University: ‘Not the be all and end all’

“WHAT the Welsh Government needs to do,” said Simon Thomas, “is stop complaining about what those nasty Conservatives are doing and start setting out proposals of its own on Welsh education.”

The Plaid Education spokesperson and candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was very clear on that point when he spoke with The Herald.

“Labour always seems to want to set up a Labour/Conservative fight. I would prefer to concentrate on formulating a Welsh policy, saying this is what we want to do; then, if the UK Treasury doesn’t play fair, we can point out what opportunities have been lost because of it. By just complaining, the current Welsh Government is simply not offering an alternative, positive vision.”

And being positive was very important to Simon Thomas.

“We have just launched our policy from Cradle to Career. That sets out a plan from 3-16 and in the post-16 framework gives a clearer balance between tuition fee policy and apprenticeships.”

Of that policy, Leanne Wood, Plaid’s leader has said: “We are investing in the very early years but also making sure people have a range of choices when they get to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen so that the academic route is not the only option but that there are serious vocational options as well.”

That point is clearly close to Simon Thomas’s own heart: “Last month we announced our plans to create 50,000 additional apprenticeships in Wales. Those would be new apprenticeships. Today, Labour has announced 100,000 apprenticeships in total. There are already 44,000 Welsh apprenticeships, so the level of apprenticeships being offered is in the same direction as our policy. We have made a commitment to show what we would do with the UK Government’s Apprenticeship Levy.

“It was a budget deal we made with Labour which stopped the fall in the numbers of Welsh apprenticeships. So I am, and Plaid is, committed to providing more apprenticeships and – importantly – more higher apprenticeships at Level 4 and beyond. By investing in higher skills there is a huge potential for Wales.”

And as for the narrower party point, Simon Thomas did not mince his words: “A clearer framework is vital. There are a lot of missing pieces in Labour’s plans and they have made no announcement on tuition fees at all.”

He continued: “The Welsh Government has kicked the question of tuition fees into the long grass. That is dishonest. After the election there will be a new Education Minister, Huw Lewis is retiring, and it will be up to them to make a decision the Welsh Government knows has to be made on tuition fees for higher education.”

The Welsh Government commissioned a report into higher education funding in Wales and we asked Simon Thomas about what it reported: “The report (by Professor Sir Ian Diamond) could not be clearer. All of those bodies which responded to it agreed that the current tuition fee policy is completely unsustainable.

“The evidence is overwhelming and unanswerable, but the Welsh Government has decided to wait until October and then probably feign surprise when it is told things have to change. As I say, the Welsh Government’s position on tuition fees is dishonest.

“It was Labour that introduced tuition fees. I fought it every step of the way in Parliament to stop it applying to Wales.

But what of Plaid’s policy?

“We’ve kept some flexibility in our plans, because we don’t know what will be the recommendation about the maintenance element of student support. But we have made it clear that continuing to send £100m of the Welsh block grant to English universities is a non-starter. You could argue that it would be tolerable in times of plenty, but these are times of austerity.

“We need to remember that of the tuition fee loan, the student sees not one penny. The students are funding the universities who are charging the maximum possible. 45% of students do not even reach the level of income where they need to repay the loans made to them.”

We asked where that left Plaid’s policy on tuition fee abatement, the ‘Learning Bonds’ it announced recently: “For a Welsh student studying in England, if they return to Wales within five years of graduation we will offset their tuition fee loan repayments for each full year. We want everyone to be able to study any subject and in any university they want to. But the current tuition fee policy means we give more money to universities outside of Wales than we do inside of Wales. This is unsustainable and Plaid Cymru believes that this is wrong. Our plans will enable students from Wales to study anywhere they want, and will ensure that the Welsh economy can benefit from the talent of Welsh students.

“Under Plaid Cymru’s plans, students from Wales who study a three-year degree will have £18,000 of their loans written off.”

Simon continued: “Our plan acknowledges wages in Wales are generally lower; it means that if you are, for example in London in a wellpaid job, a positive incentive exists for you to take your skills back to Wales.”

He smiled: “Significantly, I think, there’s been no attack on our policy from Labour: I think they are probably looking at something similar.”

Regarding postgraduate funding, Simon Thomas returned to his core grievance about the existing Welsh Government’s approach: “This is an example of where Labour is simply complaining instead of putting forward a positive alternative itself. The Welsh Government should be saying this is what we are going to do and challenging Osborne to allow Welsh students access to the loans system English students will have.

“It’s the usual thing: the Treasury has not considered the Welsh aspect: it is not devolution-aware when it comes to this sort of policy. But the lack of challenge from the Welsh Government, the lack of an alternative policy: that is letting Wales down.”

He continued: “We want to see similar scheme as in England, where from September people studying for postgraduate degrees will have access to loan funding for their studies. What this means is that English students will have tuition fee support for studying in Wales, whereas Welsh students are not eligible for any support to study anywhere.

“Our tuition fee policy will release money back to Hefcw to support part time study, Coleg Cymraeg and postgraduate study for Welsh students. The problem now is that, if we are in government after May it will already be too late to do something this year. There’s simply no headroom in the budget.”

On the deep cuts to the further education sector, Simon Thomas was cautious: “I don’t want to make a firm commitment before seeing the books, I have talked already about £100m being released back through changing the tuition fee policy. £70m of that was taken from HEFCW’s budget, the rest was robbed out of the Further Education budget. So, our higher education policy will release significant money back to FE and enable us to strike a fairer balance.

“A University education is not the be all and end all of education. We have to realise that. Young people need to have more and better choices: at the moment they are all being pointed in one direction – towards Higher Education. We are committed to looking from starting from the position that there is more than one option and that it is possible for young people to develop graduate level skills through further education and higher skills apprenticeships. The benefit for those young people is that they will not have student debt and will have the sort of higher skills that will be an advantage to them and an advantage for Wales.”

Simon reflected: “The problem is around tuition fees. If you want to pack the maximum number of people in for 9K a year, then the cheapest way is humanities but not at a high level. Not with the rigour associated with it. We’re in danger, and unis have said this, of a race to the bottom to feed the machine because everyone comes with 9K a year on their head.

“We have to change that. We have to provide a better infrastructure for young people, not simply churn them through a factory to produce graduates without the skills the economy needs.”

On Welsh Medium Education, Simon Thomas acknowledged: “There is a weakness in College education in Welsh. In sixth forms, there is some provision but that is centred about academic subjects, not things like Gofal Plant and other vocational skills.”

What about locally: “What Pembrokeshire County Council is clearly seeking to do is to scrap sixth forms through a partnership with Pembrokeshire College and then place the onus for post-16 Welsh Medium Education on Ysgol Preseli. I do not see how that can deliver vocational post-16 training in Welsh. There is an extent to which I share the view of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, that post-16 there is an issue about continuing Welsh Medium education post-16.”

He continued: “The important thing about the legislation about reorganisation is that decisions are made locally and not nationally. Local decision-making must come first. I can see people fighting for their schools’ sixth forms, but education has changed enormously. In rural areas, it is sometimes not going to be possible to retain sixth forms that can provide the range of courses needed.”

A wintry smile: “That said, when we’re out and about knocking on doors, Pembrokeshire County Council comes up and has a poor reputation on the doorstep.”

We concluded by asking Simon Thomas about a recent remark made by Carmarthenshire Councillor Meryl Gravell. Ms Gravell opined at a recent Executive Board meeting that the standard of teachers coming out of Wales’s training centres was substandard.

“Let’s put it this way, I don’t think she worded it correctly, or described the problem correctly. The issue is one of the training we give our teachers. It’s not the quality of the individuals, we are not delivering them with the skills they need. There has been a number of failed reorganisations. The problem has been that changes have aimed to provide a little bit for everyone.”

Simon Thomas was generous to Huw Lewis, the outgoing Education Minister: “I believe he is sincere in wanting to put things right with the way teacher training is delivered. We have to focus on preparing teachers for their careers and retaining them. Huw Lewis seems genuinely committed to raising the bar on teacher training.”

And Plaid’s policy: “As part of our Cradle to Career policy, we want teachers in Wales to get to the level of Masters in Education; providing CPD for two years and then a premium for teachers to reach higher standard.

“Teaching is the most important factor in raising schools standards and raising pupils’ attainment. That’s why Plaid Cymru wants to invest in our teachers, helping them remain on the cutting edge of best practice in order to drive up standards and raise attainment levels.

“We will offer teachers and teaching assistants a premium of up to 10% on their pay in return for developing additional skills. Plaid Cymru will reward upskilling and best practice, and will work with the sector to develop a system of accreditation, aiming for 25% of teachers to gain this premium.”

Simon Thomas concluded: “Education is the bedrock of a strong economy, and our plans are aimed at raising children’s attainment and delivering tangible economic benefits.”

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Education

Thousands of people in Carmarthenshire could now be eligible for free courses

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THOUSANDS of people in Carmarthenshire could now eligible for free training to rewrite their career by setting up a Personal Learning Account.

As part of the Welsh Government programme, Coleg Ceredigion and Coleg Sir Gar are running several courses in sectors that are ripe for job opportunities, including construction, finance, IT, health and safety, project management and engineering.

The programme is aimed at those who are currently on furlough, on a zero hours contract, or whose job is at risk, providing they are 19 or over and earning under £26,000.

Following a successful pilot with Coleg Gwent and Grwp Llandrillo Menai which saw around 500 people across Wales enrol on fully-funded part-time courses, Personal Learning Accounts are now being rolled out nationally to help thousands of people in Wales boost their skills and employability.

All courses have been specifically designed to match skills gaps already identified in priority sectors in Wales. Employers and stakeholders have worked in partnership with colleges to develop courses that are relevant to sectors which are expected to create job opportunities now or in the near future.

All courses are part-time and are truly flexible, designed for study around other commitments such as a current job. Many are being delivered online meaning learners can study remotely and in the evenings and weekends.

Some of the courses running at Coleg Ceredigion and Coleg Sir Gar throughout January and February are aimed at people running their own business and include Brand Strategy, Social Media for Business, Coaching and Mentoring, NEBOSH Managing Safely and IOSH Working Safely.

Minister for Education Kirsty Williams said: “The impact of the pandemic has unfortunately affected many industries, with many people looking at ways to gain new work skills, perhaps at their local college.

“Personal Learning Accounts are designed to help people in employment and whose jobs may be at risk. If you’re worried about the certainty of your employment, or you’re on furlough or a zero hours contract, accessing a free Personal Learning Account could provide you with the skills and qualifications to embark on a new and rewarding career.

“As we work towards a Welsh right to lifelong learning, the PLAs show what can be achieved for individuals, the economy and the country as a whole.”

One learner who has already taken part in the Brand Strategy course is self-employed personal trainer, James Cartwright. The gym James works at was closed over lockdown meaning James was unable to continue his work. James completed the Brand Strategy course to help boost his business and has since signed up for a six-week course in Social Media for Small Business.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the course and can’t wait for the next one. From the first session it’s really provoked a lot of thought into what I’m doing and given me so much clarity already on where I need to take things.”

Jemma Parsons, PLA Project Co-ordinator, Business Development and Employer Engagement Team at Coleg Ceredigion and Coleg Sir Gar, said: “We are delighted to be working with Welsh Government and the Regional Skills Partnership to deliver the Personal Learning Account. We look forward to supporting individuals in their training and development to progress in current and new careers and fulfil their aspirations. This funded training has come at what is a very difficult time for all.

“We hope to support individuals through face to face learning where possible, adhering to Government restrictions to ensure that all of our learners and staff keep safe, but have developed the New Year Provision to include online and Virtual Classroom learning.

“We look forward to offering individuals and employers the opportunity to upskill in areas such as Digital and Technology, Media, Health and Social Care, Construction and Creative Industries. We have some very exciting collaborations planned which will further the opportunities for individuals and employers in the region.”

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Education

Careers advice for deaf children

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THOUSANDS of young, deaf people across Wales will benefit from tailored careers advice for years to come thanks to a new partnership.


Careers Wales, which gives free and impartial careers guidance to young people, has joined forces with the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru to help better meet the needs of the country’s 2,500 deaf young people.


The partnership was established after deaf young people revealed they were worried about how being deaf would affect their employment prospects.


Concerned that young people wrongly thought their deafness was a barrier to employment, the two organisations held two focus groups to ask deaf young people about the careers advice they’d received and how it could be improved.


The results showed that deaf young people were often low on confidence, unaware of their rights and knew little about Government funding or technology that could help them in the workplace or higher education.


In response to the findings, the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru will now work together with Careers Wales and provide training to its careers
advisers to enhance their understanding of deaf awareness, accessibility and the key careers information that affects deaf young people.


The partnership means that current and future generations of deaf young people in Wales will benefit from more accessible and tailored careers advice.


As a result, thousands more across Wales could receive the knowledge, confidence and encouragement they need to make informed career choices and pursue their chosen ambition.


Previous research from the National Deaf Children’s Society with over 100 deaf young people across the UK showed that two thirds would hide their deafness on a job application, while almost half (45%) did not feel supported by their school or college when thinking about choices for the future.


Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Careers Wales and with this extra training, careers advisers will be able to give deaf young people the crucial advice they need in a format that’s tailored to them.


“Deaf young people are just as capable as hearing young people, but all too often they’re held back by the myths and misconceptions that surround deafness and the workplace. This needs to change.


“There’s an entire generation of deaf potential out there and this is a really positive step towards fully unleashing it.”


Nerys Bourne, Head of Services to Young People at Careers Wales, said: “We’re very pleased to be working with the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru to enhance our commitment to providing effective careers guidance and coaching to deaf young people in Wales.


“Providing this additional training to our advisers will enable them to focus more efficiently on the specific needs of young people within this group and to support them with a tailored and empowering careers advice service.
“We believe that this is a positive step towards equipping deaf young people in Wales with the right knowledge, awareness and confidence to succeed in their chosen career path.”

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Education

Officers celebrate completing first programme with University of South Wales

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A GROUP of eight Dyfed-Powys Police officers are celebrating becoming the first in England and Wales to complete a new graduate diploma in policing.

The PCs mark the end of the Graduate Diploma Professional Policing Practice at the University of South Wales (USW) with a virtual celebratory event on Friday, February 5th. A traditional formal graduation will take place once social distancing restrictions have been lifted and it is safe to celebrate in person.

Having experienced a combination of university lectures and academic learning with life on the beat, the officers are the first in Wales and England to complete the Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP) and gain a Graduate Diploma in Professional Policing Practice.

With backgrounds ranging from sports management to criminology and biology, the officers are now based across the force as fully licensed police officers responding to calls and investigating incidents.

Superintendent Ross Evans, force lead for Learning and Development, said: “This event marks the end of two years of hard work by our students, who are the first police officers in England and Wales to complete the DHEP course.

“Not only have they been the first cohort to combine real-life policing experiences on division with academic learning, but they have successfully managed this while reacting to the operational changes and challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have no doubt that the theory and practice of the diploma, coupled with the support from USW and our in-force learning and development department, will have put them in very good stead as they begin their careers with Dyfed-Powys Police in earnest.”

The DHEP forms part of the Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) and is a two-year graduate diploma.

Dyfed-Powys Police and USW are working in collaboration to deliver the PEQF initial entry programmes to all new police officer recruits, whether through the DHEP or Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA), and support students academically and occupationally.

From the first day of the course, the group became both serving police officers and USW students. Student officers gained independent patrol status by the end of the first year, and were required to complete an Operational Competency Portfolio by the end of year two.

Supt Evans added: “This is a new approach to police training, and one we have embraced and embedded at Dyfed-Powys.

“The PCs from this course are already passing their learning on to the next cohort of officers, and we are confident that their unique skills and experience will enhance the force and the service we provide to our communities.

“My thanks go to the students themselves, who have shown dedication and commitment to both their university work and their policing duties, as well as their families and friends for their support over the past two years.”

Peter Vaughan QPM, Director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at USW, said:  “We are incredibly proud to be partnered with Heddlu Dyfed-Powys Police (HDPP) and to be celebrating this significant achievement with the graduates of our first Policing Practice programme.

“Congratulating these Dyfed-Powys student officers on becoming the first in Wales and England to achieve their Graduate Diploma under the PEQF marks a very important occasion for us all and we very much hope that they have enjoyed studying with us as much as we have enjoyed teaching them.

“The professionalisation of the education provided to those who enter the police service at the rank of constable is a fundamental aim of the PEQF and we are proud to be contributing to this important endeavour with our partners at HDPP.”

Dafydd Llywelyn, Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner said: “I’d like to congratulate each and every one of the eight graduates for their fantastic achievement in gaining this new and innovative qualification.

“Gaining a qualification where the study methods include a combination of experience out on the beat, and also an academic input from both our Dyfed-Powys Police Learning and Development team and lecturers at University of South Wales, provides an excellent foundation for developing a successful career in policing, and I look forward to working with all eight graduates here in Dyfed-Powys, and hopefully see their careers developing further.”

Jo Noakes, Director of Workforce Development at the College of Policing, said: “The College is pleased to congratulate Dyfed-Powys’s eight newly confirmed police constables on completion of the Degree Holder Entry Programme. This is a significant milestone in the adoption of the new initial entry routes into policing as they are the first in England and Wales to complete any of the new programmes for police constable.

“We would like to commend Dyfed-Powys on their enthusiastic and positive approach to the challenge of bringing the new learning programmes to life. This is a huge achievement, particularly in the context of the national police uplift programme and the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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