Bathodynnau digidol – Beth yw’r pwynt? Karen Pontin, Ymgynghorydd ColegauCymru

Nid yw’n bosibl, yn gymesur, nac yn synhwyrol i gael holl addysg wedi’u achredu gan Sefydliad Dyfarnu.  Mae ennill achrediad yn her ac ar gontractau a phrosiectau megis y rhaglen DPP ColegauCymru, yn aml nid oes cyllid nag amser ar eu cyfer. Hefyd pan mae dysgu yn weddol fyr, er enghraifft rhaglen ar-lein o 40 munud sy’n cynnwys rhywbeth sydd yn berthnasol i staff sefydliad penodol, gall achrediad ar gyfer y rhaglen profi’n gymhleth ac yn ddrud.  Nid ydych yn torri cneuen gyda morthwyl.

Fodd bynnag, mae ffordd y gellir achredu’n gymharol gyflym, heb poen – gan ddefnyddio gwasanaeth cydnabyddiaeth ddigidol. Mae’n fenter sy’n fwy-fwy poblogaidd yn y DU. Mae mudiadau yn defnyddio bathodynnau digidol i gydnabod darnau byr o ddysgu a chyflawniad ac yn rhoi tystiolaeth o’r hyn y maent wedi ei wneud i’r cyfranogwyr. Meddyliwch am fathodynnau’r sgowtiaid a’r geidiaid ond heb y gwnïo … .. Edrychwch ar erthygl JISC ar bathodynnau i weld rhagor.

Nid yw’r gwasanaeth bathodynnau ar gael am ddim ond mae’n hawdd i’w sefydlu, ac mae’n gyflymach ac yn fwy cost effeithiol nag achrediad traddodiadol – yn enwedig os yw’r rhaglen yn fyr neu’n gyfyngedig fel y’i disgrifir uchod. Os ydych yn datblygu prosiect neu raglen a fyddai’n elwa ar gydnabyddiaeth allanol – cofiwch am fathodynnau digidol ac efallai eu cynnwys yn eich cynlluniau.

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Digital Badges: What’s the point? By Karen Pontin, ColegauCymru / CollegesWales Consultant

It is not possible, proportionate or sensible to have all learning accredited by an Awarding Organisation. Gaining accreditation is a challenge and on contracts and projects such as the ColegauCymru/CollegesWales CPD programme, funding and timescales often don’t allow for it. Also where learning is fairly short– say a 40 minute online programme covering something only pertinent to the staff of an organisation – then gaining accreditation for the programme can prove to be a hefty piece of work and expensive. Sledgehammer and nut come to mind.

However there is now a way that accreditation can be achieved relatively quickly and with less pain – using a digital recognition service. It’s an initiative that is gaining traction in the UK. It’s where organisations use digital badges to recognise bite sized chunks of learning and achievement and give those who complete it, proof of what they’ve done. Think Scouting/Guiding badges but without the sewing….. Have a look at JISC Article – Badges and see what we mean.

The badging service is (inevitably) not free but it is both easier to set up, quicker and more cost effective than traditional accreditation – particularly if the learning is short or time bound as described above.  If you are developing a project or programme that would benefit from some external recognition – give digital badges some thought and maybe include them in your plans.

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Day 3 lessons from the Basque Country: collaboration, innovation, shared goals and a strong sense of place

This week (06-10 June), a delegation from Wales’ further education sector is visiting the Basque Country in order to explore innovation in post-16 education and training and links with SMEs.

Day 3 Innovate FE Basque Country group photo of the delegation

The delegation, led by ColegauCymru and funded by Erasmus+, are blogging on their observations.  Here is their entry from the third day, following visits to Lea Artibai college and Mondragon Cooperation.

Day 3 of the #InnovateFE delegation in the Basque Country continued to highlight the benefits of having a collaborative and commercial outlook.

Our first visit of the day was to the Lea Artibai college nestled in the mountains. The journey there had a few of us wanting to get off as we twirled and whirled up the Pyrenees before dropping down deep into the valley on the other side.

We received a warm welcome by the impressive Principal, Isabel Mendiguren, followed by a presentation and a tour of the food processing department and lean manufacturing facilities.

It was clear that the Basque region’s stakeholders take a structured and co-ordinated approach to driving innovation. We heard that the college supports businesses to grow organically, driven by a collaborative ethos and a shared end goal.

Our second visit of the day was to the Modragon Cooperation, which comprises a university, as well as vocational and management training centres. It was an impressive site and we were blown away with the generosity and openness of our hosts, Dr Pedro Urteaga and Gorka Aretxaga Urkiola. They treated the 15 delegates to a traditional six course lunch (commonly eaten at 2.30pm) in a beautiful restaurant. Delicious.

Over lunch and indeed throughout the day, there was much serious discussion and dialogue on the need for change.

The economic models adopted by the Basque region demonstrate a keen sense of responsibility for developing the social environment within local communities. These common goals encourage openness, collaboration and partnership working which are mutually beneficial. It enables focus on a single objective: economic development.

The sense of place, shared goals and national pride is tangible in all elements of activity. Investments in community and economic programmes are respectful of culture and heritage.

We saw that there was very much a sense of ‘we are in this together’ with a deep rooted set of shared values which focuses on developing the Basque country. There is a clear sense of place and purpose based on traditional values and a common goal to ‘develop our area’ in order to build for the future. We reflected that the only times we see such displays of comradery in Wales is when Wales competes at sporting events. Why is that, we kept on wondering?

Key to how the Basque region operates is a recognition of the economic benefits associated with developing SMEs. The delegation considered the strong argument that a sustained financial commitment for the further education sector could enable SMEs to have better access to their specialist vocational and academic resources. The applied nature of further education provides a strong platform for knowledge transfer which has the potential to be further exploited in order to drive generational change across Wales, as it does in the Basque region.

In Wales, we are very proud of the specialist skills within our further education sector. They provide support, guidance and creativity to large companies as well as SMEs. There exists exemplary practice across Wales, often aligned to the willingness of individuals to take risk and drive change. Reflecting on what we saw in the Basque country, however, we could see that Wales had a lot of potential for more success and that the further education sector could, in the right environment, better support SMEs to grow organically.

We were all in agreement that one barrier to collaboration in Wales was the current funding challenge. It creates tension and uncertainty. It makes strategic planning difficult.

The reality is that our colleagues in the Basque region have a clear strategic commitment to supporting further education institutions to nurture SMEs. Sustained financial commitment enables institutions, policy makers and employers to cooperate openly and without fear, very much working towards a collective goal.

The Mondragon Cooperation demonstrates the true essence of partnership working. It is achieving sustained long term economic growth. Jose Maria Ariznendiarrieta, the founder, relayed the philosophy:

‘However splendid the present might be, it is destined to fail if it turns its back on the future’

A sign of vitality is not to endure but to be reborn and to adapt’.

One thing is clear, close working relationships between business and education, supported by TKINIA driving the collaboration ethos at the heart, is working. Most learners go from college straight into employment and businesses are engaging with colleges for their training and use of their facilities, thereby avoiding costly machine purchases. Industry supports the colleges and the colleges support industry.

What about a TKNIKA model here in Wales to support college and businesses collaboration? These are certainly questions and discussions we need to return to.

This visit has supported ColegauCymru’s vision and mission of leading the education, training and skills sector to drive economic and social sustainability in Wales through working with our members to learn and experience best practice from overseas. It is never easy to find like for like comparisons, but implementing best practice is something that we are eager and committed to doing.

We are grateful to Eramsus+ for funding the delegation’s visit. It was a memorable experience, thought provoking, as well as practical: we have developed sound contacts with the potential for further exchanges and engagement.

Eskerrik asko.

Thank you to the #InnovateFE delegation members for jointly contributing to the blog. The 15 members include representation from: ColegauCymru / CollegesWales, The College Merthyr Tydfil, Coleg y Cymoedd, NPTC Group of Colleges, Cardiff & Vale College, Pembrokeshire College, Coleg Sir Gâr, Grwp Llandrillo Menai, Coleg Cambria, and the Welsh Government.

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Day 2: learning from specialist vocational centres in the Basque Country

This week (06-10 June), a delegation from Wales’ further education sector is visiting the Basque Country in order to explore innovation in post-16 education and training and links with SMEs.

Innovation FE Day 2 Group photo of the delegation in the Basque Country

The delegation, led by ColegauCymru and funded by Erasmus+, are blogging on their observations.  Here is their entry from the second day, following visits to Makina Erremintaren Instituta, an Advanced Manufacturing Centre and Tolosaldea an Upper Vocational Training School.

Another early start for team #Innovate FE as we headed off to an industrial area of the Basque Country. We received a warm Welsh welcome from Joxean Egana, Managing Director of IMH, the lead Advanced Manufacturing Centre for the region. He was joined by his colleague Maria, a civil servant who works at the college.  Maria gave us an informative and very interesting presentation on the region and the college’s role, and then went on to interpret for colleagues throughout the morning in excellent English.

The centre certainly runs a smart and specialized curriculum, responsive to local industry needs, specifically advanced manufacturing.The institution’s curriculum of only 11 courses at middle and high levels (levels 3 and 5 respectively) is aligned to the European Qualifications Framework.  Basque language skills are also in demand and as a result the college is a Basque-speaking college.

A school certificate is the minimum requirement for entry into the centre. Learners remain in school until they attain the certificate, and it didn’t appear that the centre needs to up skill learners who do not meet the minimum requirement.

As in Wales, vocational training has traditionally been viewed as the route for those who are less academically able.  The centre is trying to challenge this perception and attract more academically gifted learners onto vocational programmes.  Key statistics that aid them in their efforts are that:

  • 84% of their learners progress directly into employment compared with 67% in Basque Country as a whole
  • 94% of the companies they work with would like to employ a student.

Demand drives supply.

All the vocational education and training (VET) colleges are small, specialized institutions that have excellent links with other colleges, working as clusters to deliver world class education and training to meet employer needs.

The equipment at the college is leading edge and of a higher standard that what the majority of companies have. Working with TKgune, it uses its infrastructure and its knowledge to support SME innovation and success. We were shown around numerous well-equipped workshops including for example one workshop that had five CNC machines worth around 300,000 Euros each.

By contrast, the centre also hosts a museum that emphasises its sense of place in history and that captures the region’s industrial heritage. It demonstrates clearly their pride in the industrial journey. We wondered where were our old machinery had gone to and whether colleges might set up a similar area to demonstrate industrial progress.

A short bus ride later and we arrived in Tolosaldea, an higher level vocational training centre, where we were greeted by the Principal, Joxe Iraetea.  It proved to be another example of an institution in perfect alignment with industry needs.

Knowledge transfer is a key objective in its work in supporting SMEs to improve productivity and efficiency.

It is a given that the role of teachers includes teaching and supporting innovation and commercial development for businesses. The centre employs 67 teachers. Of these, around half are deployed in teaching 600 students; the rest are engaged in commercial activities to support business development. Teachers work for 30 hours a week, teaching for 18 hours per week over 33 weeks, although they are on campus for 35 weeks. Salary scales are similar to those in Wales.

When staff are taken off teaching to work with businesses, the government provides replacement cover from a pool of qualified teachers. This pool of teachers are all Basque speakers: they have to achieve proficiency (CEFR C1) in Basque if they are to teach in the Basque country.  All classes are taught in Basque and some in English. Spanish is spoken but not taught. Multilingualism at its best.

Releasing staff is a normal activity. It appears that this system works well, benefitting teachers by developing their skills and using their knowledge to improve teaching practice. This provides positive outcomes for the SMEs, staff and the students by increasing and strengthening local networks.

Although the college has better equipment than SMEs, it appeared that it would like to be more progressive in its teaching methodologies and that it would like to develop its classrooms to include more creative spaces, similar to what we had seen in TKNIKA the previous day.

Back on to the bus, we were taken up a seriously steep and winding, narrow mountain road to a lovely little restaurant with the most stunning views across the Pyrenees. A rather late lunch at 2.30pm which was – amazing! Fish or steak with some ox tongue, salad, pates and puddings. Local food, well prepared and beautifully served kept us all very contented indeed! Again another day with many questions and ideas on how we can increase collaboration internally and externally when we return home.

Team #InnovateFE are now looking forward to Day 3, and a visit to Mondragon Co-operative.

Thank you to the #InnovateFE delegation members for jointly contributing to the blog. The 15 members include representation from: ColegauCymru / CollegesWales, The College Merthyr Tydfil, Coleg y Cymoedd, NPTC Group of Colleges, Cardiff & Vale College, Pembrokeshire College, Coleg Sir Gâr, Grwp Llandrillo Menai, Coleg Cambria, and the Welsh Government.

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Innovation in FE: an exploration of the Basque Country

This week (06-10 June), a delegation from Wales’ further education sector is visiting the Basque Country in order to explore innovation in post-16 education and training and links with SMEs.

Innovate FE image showing flags of Basque Country and Wales describing delegation organised by CollegesWales and funded by Erasmus+

The delegation, led by ColegauCymru and funded by Erasmus+, are blogging on their observations.  Here is their entry from the first day, following presentations and meetings with TKNIKA – a centre for innovation in Vocational Educational Training.

No lie in for us, early rise at 5.30am GMT for team #InnovateFE. A sprint across the sea front for some and a leisurely walk for others, we had a student style canteen breakfast and hopped on our green bus for the week. Inigo from TKNIKA welcomed us. He will be our host for the week. A bit shy at first, he soon became animated when talking about the role of TKNIKA, which promotes innovation and enterprise.

First impressions of TKNIKA after driving through the beautiful hills (comparable to Mid Wales) were of the cleanliness and openness of the reception area. It was understated for the wealth of expertise and knowledge that we were soon to experience.

Our first presenter was Victor Rodriguez, Tknika International Manager, who was happy to share his wealth of information and best practice of the centre.

Key messages from his presentation were:

  1. Vocational education and training (VET) is a renowned, prestigious and respected sector in the Basque country with its own Vice Minister, advocating the importance of innovation to the economy, environment, education, skills and business
  2. TKNIKA is driven by the European framework model that is strategically aligned to European policy
  3. It operates SMART operations that adhere to their key competencies and expertise and invest in these on a global scale. As a result it has achieved global recognition and collaborative partnerships that span the world
  4. It is strategic in its outlook and has recently launched its 4th Basque Vocational Education and Training Plan – keeping the supply chain and productivity to new technologies and training opportunities – recently engaging the unemployed in training and employment opportunities
  5. As in Wales, apprenticeships are a key focus. They involve 300 hours / 3 months on the job training
  6. There were no talks of formal qualifications, only about Level 3 and Level 5 – the qualifications framework levels, and there was a lot of focus on soft skills and flexibility, change and responsiveness, adapting to market needs.

There followed a lively and animated discussion on how these models are applied or could could be adopted in Wales.

Our second speaker from TKNIKA, Mikel Leunda, talked in more detail about a TKNIKA spin-off project, TK.gune.  In summary this project provides conditions for SMEs and the VET sector to collaborate on 5 strategic environments:
1. Automation
2. Automotive
3. Energy
4. Manufacturing
5. Creative Industries.

This is a good platform for research and development for collaboration across sectors and industry. It has become the ‘go to’ place for research and development solutions. A thank you in three languages (Welsh was one) gave another indication of a progressive and innovative Basque country.

To finish off we had a tour of the fantastic understated but effective centre that puts learning at the heart of their operations. Looking at hydroponics, nano technology, a recently converted basketball hall that now acts as a greenhouse and bio-diversity for plants – a form of future proofing food production. And one of our colleagues jumped on the bus carrying rock salt that had been converted into a weightless powder for use in food technology, manufacturing cosmetics etc.

We have certainly been fed food for thought and seen some inspiring best practice in action. The fact that the debrief lasted an hour and more was testament to the inspirational visit to TKNIKA. We are all now deep in thought and discussion about possibilities for a similar model to TKNIKA that could be run by FE in Wales. Let’s get the key people to make this happen around a table in ColegauCymru on our return….

Off for a walk to Old Town – more from our visit tomorrow.


Thank you to the #InnovateFE delegation members for jointly contributing to the blog. The 15 members include representation from: ColegauCymru / CollegesWales, The College Merthyr Tydfil, Coleg y Cymoedd, NPTC Group of Colleges, Cardiff & Vale College, Pembrokeshire College, Coleg Sir Gâr, Grwp Llandrillo Menai, Coleg Cambria, and the Welsh Government.

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International Business in Spain: a career-building experience for business learners comes to life

In Spain’s Basque Country since last Sunday, a select group of learners studying for a diploma in business studies at Coleg y Cymoedd are on work placement, learning about international trading.

Preparing for his first trip abroad, missing the football, the elections and the cat in the name of building a stand-out CV for the world of business, college student Steve had been hard at work learning Spanish in advance of his departure.  Spanish lessons, an online forum and his GCSE Welsh had all had a hand in helping him on his way.

Catching up with the group just before they left, Steve told me that he had initially been reluctant to take up the opportunity but decided, with a very firm career plan in sight, that this was an opportunity he just couldn’t miss.   Nicola, who intends to go to university to study business and Japanese, said that she was looking forward to building her business networks, whilst Hannah had her sights on ensuring that she would be well placed to get a job once her studies were over.

The students are in good company.  Their work placement is part of a project managed by ColegauCymru on behalf of further education colleges in Wales, funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus+.

ColegauCymru has built a strong track record in applying for and managing Erasmus+ funds on behalf of Wales’ colleges each year.  Just last month, we learned that we had been awarded a further 500,000 Euros for another two year programme of European work placements that will run from 2016 to 2018.

In total, the college sector in Wales has attracted almost 4 million Euros since 2011 to organise and fund placements for hundreds of vocational learners and apprentices in workplaces across a wide range of European countries.

Our International Coordinator, Sian Holleran, has also supported and advised businesses and work-based training providers in how to make best use of opportunities in Europe as well as wider afield.

Over recent years, we have built our expertise and engagement in a range of international initiatives, developing collaborations, supporting placements, building senior delegations including a wide range of stakeholders for international study visits with a view to inspire public policy that improves the lot of Wales.

With more capacity, we could do even more.

And so it is that we are advertising for a new position of European and International Coordinator to work alongside Sian.

Doubling our capacity to initiate, develop and deliver projects with European funding that benefit the post-16 education and training sector, the position is key to our vision of leading the education, training and skills sectors to drive the economic and social sustainability of Wales.

The deadline for applications is noon on 18 May 2016. 

We’re looking forward to receiving applications that are as full of enthusiasm for international engagement as the buzz we see from the vocational learners who return from their placements.

A job to spur new ideas and make careers come alive, what’s not to like?

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Making a Difference through Work Experience

BITC Responsible Business Week 2016 banner image

Responsible Business Week is a great week in which to hear that the unemployment rate in Wales has reduced.

But global unemployment statistics hide some concerning facts. For example, youth unemployment comprises 40% of the total unemployment rate in the UK, despite 16-25 year olds making up only 13% of the population.

Here at ColegauCymru, a small charity governed by its members – all further education colleges – we are unsurprisingly tasked with championing the benefits of education and training.  Our day job, the key purpose for our existence, is to influence public policy so that Wales’ citizens and its communities can grow more prosperous and reach their potential.  Ultimately, our efforts should contribute to the development of more employable individuals, improved employment opportunities, and more productive businesses.

But whilst we go about our business, developing and advocating evidence-based public policy improvements, sharing best practice from around the world and implementing training solutions, what is it that we can do to nurture and practice our core ethic of doing good on a more practical day-to-day level to address the youth unemployment crisis?

The single biggest factor in youth recruitment? Work experience

A range of reports cite work experience as the single biggest factor in recruitment.  Yet only a minority of employers offer any such opportunity. Smaller employers face the greatest barriers to engaging. And as Wales’ business sector is dominated by micro employers, the situation is acute.

We have been supporting work experience opportunities for Wales’ vocational learners and apprentices since 2011, through developing consortium applications for Erasmus+ funded work placements abroad.  In fact, we have just heard that we have been successful in securing almost €500,000 for 215 more learners and apprentices from Wales to benefit from this work mobility scheme from 2016-18. And we published a website last year to help individuals, careers advisors and employers better understand the systems that underpin learning and work mobility across Europe.

We also offer work placements within ColegauCymru.  Yes, we are a small organisation with around just 10 staff, but careful management and planning has helped us to establish good partnerships with a number of learning providers.  The result is that we receive on an annual basis an accountancy trainee from our local college, Cardiff & Vale College; business administration learners from France and Spain on Erasmus+ funded programmes; and social science undergraduate students from Cardiff University.

BITC supporter logoGiven that this week is the BITC’s Responsible Business Week, it would be remiss of me not to mention that some of the Cardiff University undergraduate placements have previously been tasked with supporting us in delivering a BITC Big Tick-Commended initiative: the Money for Life Challenge.  The Challenge, a Lloyd’s Banking Group initiative that was managed in Wales by ColegauCymru throughout its lifetime (2012-2015), aimed to challenge and support young people to improve their money management skills. By partnering with housing associations, youth groups, learning providers and other supportive organisations, we were able to reach some of those most in need of support.  It reaped a number of particularly proud moments, including Wales winning the UK-wide Challenge twice in four years.

Colleges and employers join up work experience and community benefit

Our member colleges also go to great lengths in developing, facilitating and supporting work placements for their learners.  They develop strong relationships with for-profit and non-profit companies large and small to source live project briefs for learners.  Many of the projects are aimed at supporting local communities whilst at the same time developing learners’ vocational and employability skills.  For example:

  • A partnership between Pembrokeshire College‘s Social Care Department and St David’s Care in the Community sees learners support adults with learning disabilities on community and environmental projects. The initiative won a TES FE award for Teaching & Learning in 2014.
  • A life-changing partnership between a wide range of organisations across the private, public and third sectors facilitated Coleg Sir Gâr-trained tradesmen and apprentices to build a mill, a water hole and a maternity facility in an impoverished area of Uganda over a number of years.

Over the current academic year, a number of college learners have been lending a helping hand in their local communities, developing their own skills and improving their prospects at the same time. For example:

  • The Cambrian Railways Partnership (CRP) was recognised last October by the Association for Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) Awards for its work to improve access to rail services for individuals with learning difficulties and/or mobility issues, working with students from Coleg Ceredigion in Aberystwyth and Derwen College, Oswestry on a film, ‘A Helping Hand’, and featuring its Orange Wallet Scheme.
  • Horticulture learners from Coleg Cambria Northop designed a garden for the courtyard of Llys Jasmine, a supported accommodation built for Wales & West Housing in partnership with Flintshire County Council.
  • Welsh-medium nursery Meithrinfa Gymraeg Derwen Deg in Llandudno Junction provided construction trainees from Grŵp Llandrillo Menai with a perfect live brief to refurbish several rooms.
  • Second hand clothes are upcycled into highly saleable cultural fashion pieces thanks to a continuing collaboration between Cardiff’s Oxfam Boutique and Coleg y Cymoedd‘s Art & Design Department.
  • Foundation Degree Film and Video students from the College Merthyr Tydfil have produced a film on wild animal welfare for RSPCA.

In celebrating Responsible Business Week 2016, we’ve seen and read many examples and interesting ideas of how businesses of all shapes and sizes can act responsibly.  This is our contribution to the moral imperative.  We’ll reflect on the others’ contributions that have published during the Week and hope to join in again with new stories to tell on our progress next year.


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Celebrating the greening of our colleges during Responsible Business Week

BITC Responsible Business Week 2016 banner image

It’s Responsible Business Week this week and we’re celebrating the myriad ways that further education colleges are going about the task of acting as responsible businesses.

A significant number of new state-of-the-art teaching and learning campuses have added to colleges’ estates over the last few years, whilst some existing campuses have had a facelift.  In taking to the task of building the future, colleges have sought to lead by example with responsible energy use, biodiversity enhancements, and learning opportunities for a greener future taking on key roles in shaping developments.

For example:

  • Cardiff and Vale College’s new city centre campus is sited close to public transport links, built to Excellent BREEAM standards with 40% on site generation of energy including the largest photovoltaic canopy in Wales, boasts a biodiversity-enhancing wildflower meadow and a ‘green corridor’.
  • Coleg Cambria’s efforts in surpassing all its sustainability targets have been recognised with the award of two prestigious prizes: the UK Public Service Sustainable Award for Education and the Carbon Trust Energy Management Standard accreditation – which means the college is the first education institution in the UK to reach both the Carbon Trust Waste and Energy Management standards.
  • NPTC Group of Colleges’ Llandarcy Academy of Sport has a new roof-mounted display of solar photovoltaic panels powering its dedicated sport and public services campus, including the many classrooms and IT suites, training and fitness areas, the sports hall and arena even the treadmills in the gym. A plan to extend the project to the other campuses is also in the pipeline with the Neath Campus hopefully being the next to take on solar energy.
  • Coleg Sir Gâr is also investing in solar photovoltaics electrical systems throughout the whole of its Llanelli Graig campus, with further developments in the pipeline for its Pibwrlwyd campus.
  • Grŵp Llandrillo Menai was presented with the ‘Contribution to Skills and Training’ award at the Wales Green Energy Awards 2015 for its work in the renewable energy economy and the Energy Island programme. It also boasts the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Centre for Wales (RESCW) and a Wind Turbine Training Centre at its Rhos-on-Sea campus, and the Meirionnydd Centre for Renewable Developments (CaMDA) at its Dolgellau campus.
  • Coleg Gwent’s Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone has become home to over 15,000 bees as part of the Pollinators for Life project.  In addition, the college scooped the title Most Sustainable Organisation in Education in the  Public Sector Sustainability Awards  last year, and at this year’s awards, it was also Highly Commended in the Best Waste/Recycling Project category.
  • Bridgend College won the inaugural Sustain Wales Award and was successful in its re-certification for the Corporate Health Standard at gold level last year, and is currently preparing for the Platinum Award. Further, the college has achieved the Gold level of the Welsh Green Travel Plan Awards and was the first in Wales to join the River of Flowers project for biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Since its build in 2013, The College Merthyr Tydfil has made a significant and distinctive contribution to the local community, initiating a broad range of partnerships to drive forward skills development and community regeneration and open up the college for community use.  A number of college facilities and rooms are now used on a daily and weekly basis for community groups and activities, including hair and beauty treatments, weekly sports training sessions, community group meetings, local MP surgeries, strength and conditioning gym sessions and much more. Shortlisted for a prestigious RICS Wales Community Benefit Award, we’ll find out whether it nets the prize on 19 May at the awards ceremony.
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Survey: skills needs of priority sector SMEs in Wales

What are the skills needs of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)?

The last UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ (UKCES) Employer Skills Survey relating specifically to Wales, published in 2013, indicated that skills shortages in skilled trades and in caring and leisure occupations had increased over the previous two years.  It also foresaw that skills requirements would change over the following year. There hasn’t been a national survey since.

In an attempt to plug the gap, CollegesWales / ColegauCymru, in collaboration with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Wales, has commissioned research into the role and importance of skills, training and qualifications to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Wales. The research focuses on a survey of employers in the travel & tourism, retail, hospitality and catering sectors – sectors which have a particularly mobile workforce.

The survey seeks to understand the level of awareness of qualifications among employers, the transparency of the qualifications system, and how portable qualifications are seen to be. The survey also attempts to identify the skills levels that employers need to fill skills shortages – the balance between qualifications at, for example, Level 2 (GCSE level), Level 3 (Extended Diploma, A levels), Level 4/5 (HNC, HND, Foundation Degree), Level 6 (honours degree) etc.

Whilst the data gathered by the survey will be kept confidential by the research team at the University of South Wales and Cardiff University, the results of the survey will be shared by SMEs, the commissioning partners and government in order to help shape post-16 education and training policies and delivery.

The value of the survey will of course increase in relation to the number of participating SMEs.  We therefore urge SME employers in Wales to be a part of it.

Click here to go to the survey.

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Is the European Qualifications Framework Fit for Purpose?

The European Qualifications Framework was first proposed 10 years ago and launched in 2008.  Questions are now being asked about whether the Framework has worked.  Is it fit for purpose? Does it make a difference to people’s lives?  Is it relevant? Does it need to change?

Adrian Sheehan portraitThese were the questions asked of European nations’ National Contact Points for the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) last month.  Wales’ National Contact Point for the EQF, ColegauCymru’s Adrian Sheehan, was at the meeting in Brussels where the deliberations began. This is his account of emerging views.


What is the European Qualifications Framework?

The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is an overarching framework set up in Europe to facilitate comparison of qualifications and qualifications levels in order to remove obstacles to mobility in Europe by improving transparency and comparability of skills and qualifications and to improve recognition for progress to further education and employment.

The core of the framework consists of eight qualifications levels described through learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and competence). Countries are invited to relate their national qualifications levels to the neutral reference established by the EQF.

The referencing process asks countries to confirm that their national qualifications framework (NQF) meets a number of criteria.  Among these are:

  1. The responsibility for the framework rests with legally constituted public authorities
  2. There is a clear link between the qualifications levels in the national qualifications framework and the level descriptors of the European Qualifications Framework.
  3. The national qualifications framework and its qualifications are based on the principle and objective of learning outcomes and linked to arrangements for validation of non-formal and informal learning and, where these exist, to credit systems.
  4. The procedures for inclusion of qualifications in the national qualifications framework or for describing the place of qualifications in the national qualification system are transparent.
  5. The referencing process shall include the stated agreement of the relevant quality assurance bodies.
  6. The referencing process shall involve international experts.
  7. Following the referencing process, all new qualification certificates, diplomas and Europass documents issued by the competent authorities contain a clear reference, by way of national qualifications systems, to the appropriate European Qualifications Framework level.

(N.B. This is not a complete list of the criteria.  For an explanation go to the EQF website.)

The EQF is a soft translation tool which helps to build trust.  It has great potential as an instrument of transparency between nations and has been very successful as a tool to support changes to and the alignment of qualifications across European countries.

Where are we now?

Each of the UK nations has a well-developed qualifications framework. Here in Wales, for example, all regulated qualifications are mapped onto the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW), which in turn is mapped to the EQF.

CQFW fan 2015

The Credit and Qualifications Framework Wales CQFW)

The CQFW has been strongly embedded in certain educational sectors, notably in higher education and adult & community learning, where it is closely aligned with qualifications outcomes and organisational standards.  However, an evaluation of the CQFW in 2014 found that it was not being used in practice as much as had been hoped across the education and employment sectors.

Until the EQF is more widely established across European nations, it is the view of the Wales NCP that it is not yet the time to make further developments to it.

Where is the rest of Europe?

Many countries are still in the process of developing National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs), working through a range of different challenges. As a result, the EQF’s impact on citizens has so far been low.

There was a strong feeling at the meeting in Brussels that the EQF is a valuable development, that countries want their qualification frameworks be aligned to it and to use it to enhance mobility.

However, many countries are still developing their NQFs with differing roles of qualifications and facing different challenges in developing their frameworks.  There are still wide differences in levels of development between those countries with mature frameworks and those who are still introducing these.

Where next for the EQF?


At the meeting in Brussels, the European Commission had proposed that it move to reinforce referencing, enhance comparability across the EU and potentially beyond European nations, and set up an international recognition convention covering all types and levels of qualifications, with a European IT platform for sharing information and recognition as part of European services for skills and qualifications.

The view of the four UK National Contact Points, however, is that considering such moves is premature.  We believe that there is still a need to help develop the central role of the NQFs in individual countries. This has been established in countries with mature frameworks but for the newer frameworks there is still some distance to travel.

We feel that European nations need to focus on better referencing, better coordination between higher education, vocational education and training, and regulated professions, together with better quality assurance.

More clarity on the concept of the EQF would also help its development; i.e. focus on bottom up national developments but with up to date referencing to ensure frameworks across Europe continue to be aligned rather than a top-down approach proposed by the European Commission. The EQF should be an instrument for transparency, not for recognition.

The considered view of the UK’s NCPs was was supported by most of the countries who contributed to the meeting.  This, then, will likely form the basis of the Wales/UK response to the European Commission’s consultation on its proposals when it begins a process of formal consultation in May.

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