Work based learning in Wales: The journey towards quality improvements
This week, two important conferences – at the SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff yesterday and at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, tomorrow (Friday) – for work based learning providers are being held to promote a best practice handbook as a tool for continuous improvement. National Training Forum Wales chair Arwyn Watkins, a speaker at both conferences, describes the road to improvement taken by members over the last four years.
What a journey it has been for all involved in the delivery of Work Based Learning in Wales. In this context I am referring to the two key strands of the Welsh Assembly Government’s contracted Work Based Learning (WBL) delivery, namely the Skill Build and Apprenticeship programmes.
There was a time when the start of a new calendar year cast really dark clouds over the whole WBL Network. This used to appear in the shape of a News Release from Estyn closely followed by the public launch of the Chief Inspector’s Annual Report.
I remember receiving a news release with the bold heading of EDUCATION AND TRAINING STANDARDS IMPROVE IN WALES – but work-based learning a cause for concern. Embargo: 11.00am Monday 23 January 2006.
That was a reference point on this journey. It felt that there was no future for the delivery of WBL by the current contracted network of providers. At this point in time, there were 115 contracted providers of WBL, comprising 14% Local Authority, 20% Further Education and Higher Education Institutions and 66% Independent and Third Sector organisations.
The Education and Lifelong Learning Committee back in March 2005, when taking evidence from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education and Training in Wales in relation to the 2003-2004 Annual Report, was informed that the greatest concern for Estyn was the standards in WBL. Too few trainees had gained all the qualifications they needed to complete their qualification framework.
It became very apparent that we at NTfW really needed to take a close look at the evidence and establish a strategic approach to secure the future of WBL. So what direct action did we take in a very competitive network of providers who all realised that the status quo was not sustainable?
The NTfW was successful in bidding into the Quality Investment Fund to develop a good practice handbook in Leadership and Management for WBL providers. As the then vice chair of NTfW, I established and chaired a steering group from the membership who were able to share their identified areas of good practice in a handbook. This steering group was strengthened by partnership organisations DCELLS, ESTYN and Fforwm, which was critical for quality improvement.
The best practice handbook that was produced is one of the key milestones on the quality journey. The introduction of the Provider Performance Review, which was introduced after consultation with NTfW in 2005 and viewed as a powerful tool to drive up quality and standards, was a key partner too.
So we are now at the end of the current cycle of the Common Inspection Framework and just about to embark on a new journey. This will build on the best of what has been established through the sharing of best practice with the recent publication of a new handbook and a series of roadshows to distribute the message.
We remain committed to continuous improvement within the federation and do not underestimate the challenges ahead with a transformation agenda – a new approach to securing the future of WBL through tendering – at a time of economic uncertainty.
The WBL sector in Wales is responsible for delivering vocational skills to more than 60,000 individuals and the success rate on apprenticeship programmes is in excess of 70% – up by some 34% since 2004/05.
We recognise that quality in our service is not what we put in but what the learner gets out of it. For the sake of you, the people, we need to get the balance right and ensure that all career advice and guidance embraces apprenticeships.