The air was buzzing with creative solutions as FE Colleges across Wales shared the results of their projects at ColegauCymru’s conference ‘Re-thinking Post 16 Independent Living Skills provision in Wales’, on 18th October held at the Pavilion in Llandrindod Wells. This was the culmination of eight very different projects that groups of colleges had been working in partnership on throughout 2017/2018 in order to develop provision and practice in the Independent Living Skills curriculum area. FE in Wales had much to celebrate!
The projects were part of a Welsh Government initiative ‘Creative Solutions ILS’, which aimed to change that way that FE works with learners in ILS to address concerns raised in a recent Estyn thematic report. Recommendations in the report have involved major changes to working practices which, in recent years, had seen an over reliance on qualifications as a measure of achievement or progress.
The day started with an update from Chris Denham, ALN Transformation Lead (FE), on the progress of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018. Anne Evans, ColegauCymru Creative Solutions ILS project lead, then gave an overview of work carried out by the ColegauCymru ILS curriculum group who have been developing a new person-centred approach to curriculum for learners with learning difficulties. The new curriculum focuses on developing communication, numeracy and digital literacy skills as well as wider skills based within the four pillars of learning; independence, health and well-being, employability and community. Detailed initial assessment informs individual learning plans, the key to success is in ensuring that each learner works on individual targets that both measure small steps of progress and are linked to their likely destinations.
A ‘market place’ activity in the morning was very popular. It gave each project the opportunity to showcase their year’s work and gave those attending the chance to visit each project, ask questions and look at the project resources that had been developed. The range of projects included trying out new approaches to assessment, target setting and monitoring progress with learners (Gower College Swansea, CAVC and Coleg Gwent; Bridgend and Pembrokeshire College; Coleg Cymoedd and Merthyr College) as well as piloting dynamic new approaches to the curriculum for learners with learning difficulties working at entry and pre-entry level (Grwp Llandrillo Menai, Coleg Cambria and Coleg Sir Gar). Delegates said that they ‘Loved the market place idea’; and that it was a ‘novelty to talk to everyone and ask questions as they occurred naturally’.
Other highlights of the day included a film, ‘Dyma fi’ produced by Coleg Sir Gar (Ceredigion), This showed the inclusive drama work carried out by their talented learners. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Richard Tither (HMI Estyn) spoke passionately on quality issues; the challenges that FE faces in ensuring effective self-evaluation and the need for honest and self-critical processes. He emphasised the importance of considering the impact and asking the question, ‘so what?’ when measuring progress and evaluating improvement. The conference finished with a look to the future with ways to continue and roll out the new curriculum and ways of working. The continued support of the Welsh Government, Estyn and senior management in FE colleges has been crucial and provides the sector with optimism for the further work.