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Damning report lifts the veil on ineffective Jobs Growth Wales

The Welsh Labour Government’s flagship Jobs Growth Wales (JGW) scheme has come under heavy fire today after the Government’s own interim report identified a number of weaknesses with the scheme.

The report, released today, found that 73% of those on JGW placements would have found work without the Government scheme. It also notes significant failings to target those young people most in need of help to find work, particularly in Communities First areas. Participants on the scheme are also shown to be trapped in low wages, earning only 67% of the average for their age group whilst on the scheme, and only 76% of the average for their age group after they finish.

The report is an embarrassment to the Welsh Labour Government, who have claimed the scheme is the best of its kind in the world, as their own report notes that success levels are only on a par with other job creation schemes.

The Welsh Labour Government’s own report has finally lifted the veil on Jobs Growth Wales, showing just how ineffective their scheme really is. The fact that three quarters of the young people on the scheme would have found work without it shows that they’ve learned nothing from their past mistakes.

By wasting precious money on people that don’t need the support, they are failing the thousands of young people in Wales that desperately do. This scheme has done absolutely nothing to help the most disengaged and disadvantaged young people in Wales, and has actually entrenched low wage levels in our young workforce.

Perhaps most damning of all is the confirmation in this report that this scheme was set up in a rush as a political gimmick, and not to deliver real results and support for the young people of Wales. This money needs to be reinvested immediately to target support to those young people most at risk of long-term unemployment, giving them the skills and opportunities that Jobs Growth Wales has failed to deliver for them.

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Education cuts ‘will lead to 9,000 fewer apprenticeships

Today’s Western Mail reports on the view of the National Training Federation for Wales that plans to cut an education grant supporting skills training will result in almost 9,000 fewer apprenticeship opportunities.

The organisation, which represents about 100 organisations involved in the delivery of learning in the workplace, believes that scaling back the Welsh Government’s flagship apprenticeship programme will create 3,527 fewer opportunities in “priority areas” of 16 to 24-year-old learners and higher apprenticeships:

A detailed study undertaken by NTFW predicted there would be 8,857 (49%) fewer apprenticeship opportunities overall in Wales for the period from August 1, 2014, to March 31, 2015, compared with the same period last year.

And contrary to reports, NTFW said £10.7m of financial support to employers offering to recruit and train young apprentices – rather than the £7m first quoted – would be lost in the next year.

It said the total apprenticeship budget allocated for the period August 1, 2014, to March 31, 2015, was £56.1m, of which £42.7m (76%) was needed to service apprentices already “in learning”.

NTFW’s operations manager Jeff Protheroe said: “With only £13.3m (24%) of the apprenticeship budget available for new starts, this will have a significant impact on the provider network to offer opportunities to employers and individuals, including those who are looking for a progression route from other Welsh Government programmes, such as Jobs Growth Wales and traineeships.

“When you see the figures in black and white the only word to describe them is stark – 9,000 less apprentices than last year.

“Our members have been left scratching their heads because there was no slack in the apprenticeship programme to cut. It appears the government has received some bad advice.”

NTFW said it had been informed that the Welsh Government is planning a further £20m cut in apprenticeship programmes in March.

The figures appear to fly in the face of statements emanating from the Welsh Government about its “gold standard” apprenticeship programme – its 86% success rate being the envy of other UK countries.

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We need a new way of measuring pupil achievements that’s not so demoralising

This summer’s GCSE and A-level results have once again concentrated minds on the standard of the education system in Wales.

As usual, TV cameras and newspapers reported the results, analysing success, failure and progress or otherwise but concentrating on performance within the A*-C bands.

But when did you last see a smiling school pupil saying how pleased they were that through hard work and determination they’d actually managed to achieve a D grade at GCSE?

The trouble is, it’s not just the youngsters taking the exams who are being graded every summer, it’s the whole education system in Wales.

We all know that the Welsh Government’s annual report cards have read: “Could do better” or “Not good enough” for some years now, but it is completely unrealistic for them to be so reliant on simplistic targets like exam results and the A*-C threshold.

Despite the Education Minister’s written statement on July 3 this year, which attempted to separate the achievements of learners in examinations from the overall success of schools, in reality the grades achieved by pupils will always define how well a school is performing.

Even in recognising that there is “undue focus on the C grade”, the minister still clings to the threshold as an important indicator, so even though I applaud his attempts to try to change how we measure success, I believe that more could be done to acknowledge the aspirations and attainment of all pupils.

What we need is a system of continuous, individualised assessment which charts each student’s performance right through their time in school. That way, we can celebrate a school’s achievements for each individual in raising them to be at or above their anticipated outcome level by the time their GCSEs come around.

The current system sends a message to pupils, teachers and parents alike that only the very best grades matter, and that message is demoralising and misguided – which brings me on to school banding.

Banding was first used in Wales in December 2011, when secondary schools were split into five quintiles using exam results, attendance figures and the number of pupils on free school meals as the key indicators.

Each year, when the bands are released, Band One schools are eager to promote themselves to parents of potential pupils but the wild fluctuations from year to year can mean a Band One school in 2012 can be in Band Four a year later.

But because of the way that banding works, there will always be a fixed number of schools in each band, leaving parents (and many teachers) confused about why their school has been re-banded despite the fact its results have stayed the same.

In too many cases, the banding system and the results of Estyn inspections are at odds with each other leading to uncertainty and instability within the sector.

From September this year, primary schools will also be assessed and given grades, but I seriously question the wisdom and necessity of this move because of the risk that the perpetual anxiety to be successful will start to over-ride the desire to simply teach.

Most importantly, the very youngsters whose lives could be enhanced and inspired by learning are at risk of becoming completely disengaged from education as soon as they pick up on the fact that achievements are being measured in this way.

The value judgements being made in the system mean that too many youngsters can lose the motivation and ambition to try harder to reach their full potential.

I believe what we need for the future is a comprehensive and well thought out education policy. The policy should be developed with the education sector, so that rather than lurching from one failed initiative to the next in a series of unsettling upheavals, everyone in Wales can get behind a trusted, consensually-based model of working which will improve outcomes and ambitions.

Once that policy has been agreed and implemented it should be given plenty of time to “bed in”. In implementing such a model, school leaders and potential future leaders are crucial in helping to guide young people through the education system and we owe it to them to make sure they have the tools, training and support they need to do their jobs.

We also need to trust teachers to get on and teach, not insist on overloading them with vast swathes of assessment paperwork from a variety of different sources (using different criteria) so that they and their work can be graded accordingly.

On the positive side, there have been some welcome developments. In future, Estyn inspections will be undertaken with less notice, which will give a more accurate picture of our schools. From this September Estyn inspections will include reference to how schools spend their Pupil Deprivation Grant funding to make sure that disadvantaged pupils get all the additional support they need to improve attainment.

And a series of reviews and recommendations for qualifications and the curriculum will provide the basis for incremental change leading up to and past the next Assembly election.

Huw Lewis, as Education Minister, has the opportunity to provide a new style of leadership more in keeping with the needs of the modern sector. By building on a consensual approach we can develop a more appropriate and effective form of measuring overall attainment.

This would take massive commitment from all sides, as well as an abandonment of the “Punch and Judy” politics we see far too often in the Assembly, but considering the alternatives, I’d like to think that’s not an impossible task.

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Caerleon campus announcement is another broken promise

The closure of the Caerleon Campus is yet another broken promise from the Welsh Labour Government. The merger only took place last year and we were explicitly told that campuses wouldn’t close.

This is a major blow not only for students, but for staff too who have every right to feel angry and betrayed. Labour needs to explain why it has gone back on its word.

The previous Education Minister claimed that mergers would protect campuses and that has now turned out to be false. It’s worrying that the same person is now responsible for encouraging local councils to merge.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat petition, led by local campaigner and Parliamentary candidate Paul Halliday, has well over a thousand signatures. There is a strong feeling on this and people will be livid with this announcement. I have submitted an urgent question on the matter to be discussed in the National Assembly.

This is yet another indication that the Welsh Government’s student finance scheme, which is funded by reductions to grants in universities, is causing real issues within Welsh higher education.

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A chance to promote a new union

There is no doubt that the vote over Scottish independence next week is one of the most important votes our country has ever faced. Although only 8% of British citizens will be heading to the polls, the result will have a colossal impact on the entire United Kingdom and its politics. Whatever the result, one thing is for certain: the status quo will not continue.

The referendum offers us a chance to promote a new Union, rather than stubbornly defend the old. The Welsh Liberal Democrats offer people a more positive future: not one of isolation, but one in which all corners of the United Kingdom are indeed stronger and better together.

I firmly believe that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. Being part of a strong family of nations like ours is in the best interest of not just Scotland but the rest of the UK too. We all benefit from a stronger economy, greater national security and a powerful international voice that would be hard to match as separate states. However, Scotland must have more powers to determine its future. To simply do nothing in the event of a ‘No’ vote cannot be an option.

It’s clear that the constitutional make-up of the entire UK will have to change even if the ‘No’ side wins. All three unionist party leaders have already committed to more powers for Scotland in the event of a ‘No’ vote and finally, a debate is opening up about the powers Wales and the regions of England could be given in the future.

For many years my party has called for creation of a constitutional convention. This is why in 2010, the Liberal Democrat Manifesto called for a citizen’s convention to draft a new constitution for the people of Britain. In 2012, I gave evidence to the House of Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform committee calling for a UK-wide constitutional convention to establish a durable settlement for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the regions of England.

I regret the fact that it’s taken such a large threat to our Union for many people to stand up and take notice and start discussing improvements to our nation’s constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK. Liberals have been advocating greater home rule for Wales and Scotland for over a century, and the Liberal Democrats have championed a federal solution for decades. We want to bring a wider range of decisions closer to the people they affect, enabling local solutions to be found that take into account local circumstances.

While Wales, and the rest of the UK, must gain stronger powers, I have never quite understood the logic used by the SNP and Plaid Cymru to argue for independence. Both parties rightly recognise the vast benefits that come from being part of the family of nations that is the European Union – the economic prosperity, the millions of jobs, the cultural experiences. Yet both parties fail to apply this same reasoning to the United Kingdom – itself a family of nations that musters its economic and cultural strength from all four corners of these isles.

In an ever-changing world with an increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent population, it seems nonsensical to be putting up new borders. We should be taking every possible opportunity to co-operate with our neighbours across the world to deal with issues such as cross-border crime, global tax avoidance, climate change – problems that all nations face but cannot deal with alone.

In just a few years in Government, the Liberal Democrats have already delivered significant powers for Wales. This momentum must continue. The rest of the UK has to gain greater devolved powers after September, and I will not allow Wales to be left behind in any such discussions. We must be given the tools we need to build a stronger Welsh economy, create a fairer society and provide the opportunity for everyone to get on in life.

This article was first published on the IWA’s Click on Wales site

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Community hydro power scheme deserves our support

I was pleased to give my backing yesterday to his backing to Corwen’s community hydro power scheme which is reaching a crucial stage in its development as it calls for financial backing from local people.

At a recent meeting Aled Roberts met some of the directors and advisors of the Corwen Electricity Co-operative which has been set up to develop the power scheme. It will generate electricity from water flowing down from a reservoir above Corwen.

The co-operative has issued a pioneer share offer to raise £25, 200 to help pay for official permissions and has already raised more than half the funds they need.

This is a great scheme,” commented Aled Roberts. “These micro power projects are just the sort of initiative that the Welsh Liberal Democrats called for when they debated energy policy at our conference last April.

As energy becomes more expensive we must use all the natural resources such as solar and water to develop local power generation. The Corwen scheme is a good example of what could be done throughout North Wales with the sort of local involvement and professional advice that is in evidence here.

I urge more local people to get involved by backing the pioneer share offer so that the co-operative can get all the permissions they need this year so that construction can start in 2015 with the aim of completing the building phase in 2016.”

For more information about Corwen’s Energy Co-operative visit their website www.corwenelectricity.org.uk

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