Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Economy, Tackling poverty, Transport and Post 16 Education, Helen Mary Jones MS has called on the Welsh Government to “turn words into action” by granting the Further Education Sector the funding and support it needs

The Welsh Government claims it gives vocational education parity of esteem with academic education, but when it comes to financial support and guidance to the Further Education sector the action doesn’t match the rhetoric. The Covid-19 crisis has thrown this in to sharp relief, with Government appearing to focus on academic education at the expense of support for Further Education and vocational learning.

As a condition for granting further financial support to meet additional costs of providing education in the post covid environment the Welsh Government has requested details the sector is unable to currently provide. Colleges cannot yet know, for example, what additional staff may be required to teach practical vocational skills in a safe, socially distanced way, nor can they be clear what the additional cost of providing equipment to students to support distance learning will be, particularly given the risk of further local lockdowns in face of a possible second wave of the virus.

And on top of this Colleges face an estimated £10 million additional wage bill arising from pay settlements for staff. While additional costs to schools of paying salary increases is at least in part met by Welsh Government through the Revenue Support Grant to Local Authorities Colleges have been given no assurances of additional funding to enable them to pay this bill.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Economy, Tackling poverty and Transport Helen Mary Jones MS said,

“The Welsh Government must step up and turn words into action when it comes to the Further Education Sector. If the Government really hold parity of esteem between vocational and academic education as it claims, then it must stop treating Further Education as a subordinate and provide proper funding and support.

“Further Education is, for many students, a second chance at education, but it shouldn’t be seen as second best – it provides a lifeline for many people in Wales and transforms lives. Welsh Government must stop treating it as an afterthought, which is clearly what has been happening through this crisis.

“Too much focus has been exclusively on secondary schools whilst Further Education has been more or less ignored, and this has to change. The sector has repeatedly requested financial support. There must be a commitment from Welsh Government to underwrite additional costs Colleges face in providing learning in the post covid environment. Otherwise students may have to be turned away.  

“Additional, bespoke guidance to support safe reopening is also urgently needed. What works for schools may not work for Colleges where the learning environment is often very different. For example sector is made up of a range of ages in regards to students and teachers, and this has to be reflected in the covid guidance it receives.

“I’m really disappointed that the First Minister didn’t acknowledge in plenary following questioning that the Welsh Government have consistently treated Further Education as a Cinderella service and based on his response it seems unlikely to change”