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Colegau Cymru conference speech on 12 June 2019 by Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education.

First published:
8 July 2019
Last updated:

Bore da pawb.

Mae’n braf bod yma gyda chi heddiw.

Good morning everyone.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you – many thanks for the invitation.

Firstly can I also congratulate you on your choice of theme for this year’s conference.

As many of you will know, the idea of a “public value” in education – that of a common good and institutional civic mission – has been at the forefront of my national mission of education reform.

I’m sure Iestyn will have come across this in his MBA, but the author of the term “public value” in the context of public management was Professor Mark Moore of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

He writes of finding the ‘fit’ between an organisation, its strategic management and the operating external environment.

And we create public value by finding that ‘fit’.

We are in a period of great change, and great uncertainty.

There is no guarantee that our current jigsaw pieces will continue to fit together to give a joined-up coherent picture.

But I am convinced that you – our strong and diverse FE sector – can meet those challenges.

And in that way, it is appropriate that we’re meeting here on Newport Road.

Just across the way, some 140 years ago, the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire was founded.

In the tradition of educational advancement in Wales, it was part of a civic, economic and academic revolution.

A college, of and for the people.

And not only the preparation for a university degree.

Evening classes here in the city and across the Valleys.

Equity between men and women.

And providing technical and vocational education in key local and national industries.

Now, I know that roads – or a particular road - are a hot topic for us in Government and in Wales at the moment…

But, what happened here was the start of a road to learning and advancement for all, and true public value education.

So in taking that spirit forward, I want to set out five key points for the coming period:

Point 1 - Working towards one skills system for Wales – 

Our National Strategy ‘Prosperity for All’, recognises skills delivery as one of five key priority areas that has the greatest potential contribution to long-term prosperity and wellbeing of our nation.

The better people’s skills, the better their chances of getting fair, secure and rewarding employment. 

The stronger the skills base is in Wales, the more chance we have of attracting new businesses and crucially growing existing ones to improve prosperity.

The strategy also recognises that we need to work differently - we need to work more collaboratively within Welsh Government and with our partners, to achieve the goal of prosperity for all.

Our challenge is to enable people to develop the skills they need to get the jobs they want, supporting businesses to start, innovate and grow and creating decent, secure employment, focusing on the diverse needs of individuals.  

Working with Regional Skills Partnerships, we can ensure provision is responsive to the particular skills needs of each part of the country, recognising that pressures on and priorities for colleges in different localities will differ significantly.

We cannot ignore how other parts of the UK approach post-compulsory education and training and, of course, none of us can predict the consequences of leaving the European Union if that is what we end up doing.  

A skilled and educated workforce will help Wales to attract high value, innovative and knowledge-based businesses and adapt more readily to the changing economic environment.

Looking to the future, we have to regard vocational learning as equal to an academic route if we are to achieve our vision of a skilled nation, responsive to changing economic needs.  We are currently working towards one skills system for post-16 learning in Wales to strengthen and better align the delivery of skills provision.

In that regard I look forward to hearing the outcomes and your views from the workshop planned later this morning.

Moving to point 2 - the Two stages in life: Young People and Adults

All learners should have access to appropriate opportunities. 

A broad and appropriate range of clear pathways must allow access to all levels of learning, with smooth transition between vocational, technical and academic routes. 

Learners need to have access to those appropriate pathways at different stages of life, aligned with their individual needs and with Welsh Government economic and social priorities.

I am really proud that the First Minister and I have committed ourselves to exploring a new Welsh right to lifelong learning.

To support people at every point in their lives, to be able to learn new skills, to retrain, and to ensure every person living in Wales can have the opportunity to thrive in our society.

We are now taking that commitment forward, and testing with partners, actually what do those words mean in practice. I would urge you to get involved with that work.

I also believe we need to identify ways to help people make more effective choices between the different options available to them at 16 and 18, so they can make more informed decisions about their future. 

This could include more information about the earning potential of different jobs and what qualifications are needed to get them, as well as ensuring access to a relevant range of high quality academic, technical or vocational routes.

I look forward to hearing your views on what we do well and what we can improve on following the workshop this morning.

Which takes me to Point 3 – the Three Skills Regions of Wales effectively planning for effective learning provision in their area.

We are continuing to work closely with the three Regional Skills Partnerships, who have an instrumental role in identifying the demand for skills across the regions of Wales. 

They are continuing to develop robust employer engagement strategies and work with employers to better understand skills shortages and skills gaps. 

Regional priorities are captured in employment and skills plans which, in turn informs the deployment of Welsh Government skills funding.  

To further enhance this process, greater collaboration is required across Welsh institutions, in conjunction with employers, to respond to regional demands for employment and skills. 

This means truly listening to employers and working with Regional Skills Partnerships as strategic bodies, to agree regional priorities which are both aligned to opportunities which drive economic growth and our foundational sectors of significance.

You will be aware that the Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee is undertaking an Inquiry into Regional Skills Partnerships.  I look forward to the recommendations of the Inquiry, which will inform how we further strengthen our approach to regional working.

And so to Point 4 – bringing Four Sectors into one through the creation of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER).

The proposed Commission will have a focus on four sub-sectors coming together: Further Education, including sixth forms, Adult Community Learning; Work based learning and Universities. 

My ambition is to develop a joined up post compulsory education and training system in Wales that is easy to navigate for our learners and that supports our future competitiveness on a world stage. 

I am committed to the principle that having teaching and learning, together with research, can give us a real advantage. 

And I believe this will allow us to better acknowledge the growing role that FE has in Research, Innovation and knowledge transfer.

CTER will plan for an integrated sector. A system that incentivises and facilitates collaboration between providers across the post-16 sector to serve the needs of learners, employers, the wider community and the economy, removing duplication and wasteful and counterproductive competition. 

We see this being achieved through a stronger, more integrated and responsive planning and funding system.

We must ensure that Further and Higher Education, Work based Learning and Apprenticeships are better connected, more flexible, with a clear line of sight into higher level learning and/or employment.  

Which leads me finally, to Point 5 – we have allowed ourselves Five years to implement the new arrangements with the creation of the Commission. 

It is crucial that we get it right, which is why we are taking time to do so, making sure everyone’s voice can be heard.

I learnt my lesson on this when I came into office and took forward school curriculum reform.

The original plan was a big bang approach – it would be introduced overnight, to all schools, all year groups.

I listened to the profession, and studied the international evidence.

It was clear to me we were setting ourselves up to fail.

No-one had attempted that before.

We didn’t have the professional learning in place.

We were expecting a switch before a proper review of assessment and qualifications had taken place.

So now we have a longer lead in – and it will be rolled out, following cohorts from Year 7.

It’s never easy for a politician to say we were going to take a bit more time – but it was the right decision.

Therefore, I am convinced we’re taking the right approach to establishing the Commission.

Our philosophy is about creating one system, one voice, one approach to planning and funding.

The programme is, however, in the early stages of delivery. 

Engagement with key stakeholders will be essential throughout the process…..partnership is key for me.  

The workshop this morning is an early step in preparing us to start addressing some of the challenges currently in our system.

I will give you my commitment that we will continue to engage with and listen to all partners including learners themselves. 

I am determined that the learner should be central to all our reforms with proposals to strengthen and bring consistency to learner engagement and representation across the sector. 

Our structural reforms, through joint enterprise and collaboration, will provide a whole-systems approach that will deliver for learners and the economy.  But, at the same time, I must make this clear, we remain totally committed to institutional autonomy and academic freedom – recognising that such freedom is sacrosanct in a modern democracy. 

In conclusion, as ever, I look to the sector for your support and co-operation … we face challenging times ahead … and we must recognise the important role of employers in mapping the future.  There are challenges that we need to overcome and we cannot do so or meet these challenges or deliver these improvements in isolation.  We can only achieve our goals through working in collaboration.

There is real value in building new partnerships, capitalising on the rich diversity of practice across the sector and in the context of the devolved nations. 

We have a unique opportunity to learn from one another, by sharing practice and pooling knowledge and experience to improve the quality of services to both citizens and business.

And it is through this that we will be able to piece together that jigsaw, make it fit together and deliver on real public value.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

Thank you / Diolch yn fawr.