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Confusion surrounding Welsh for Adult learners

Two steps forward and one step back: Welsh for adults provision still unclear
Two steps forward and one step back:
Welsh for adults provision still unclear

WELSH language classes for adult learners in Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, and Powys have no tutors and no timetables with less than three months to go until the start of the next academic year. ‘Untold uncertainty’ about what courses will be taught and who will be teaching them has left the future of a key manifesto commitment from Labour unclear. The disarray has followed the dramatic reorganisation of the provision of Welsh language classes for adults across Wales with suggestions being made that money intended to fund tutors and support students have ended up bound up in administration and bureaucracy.

In several areas , a significant number of Welsh language tutors have been laid off or made redundant by those providers who tendered unsuccessfully the ten new contracts awarded by the new entity responsible for overseeing and coordinating the provision of adult language classes. Details of who received offers and the basis of those offers have never been made public, but what is known is:

  • Swansea University was one of the biggest losers, and lost both Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire
  • • In Pembrokeshire, the service will be provided by the county council
  • Aberystwyth University has lost the old county of Meirionnydd but gained Carmarthenshire

There have been other changes in geographical responsibility, mainly in the north. A significant number of experienced staff have been made redundant in Swansea, and a further significant number are facing redundancy in North East Wales. That was certainly not the intention of the report which went to the then Education Minister Leighton Andrews, the main thrust of which was to remove layers of bureaucracy and management and ensure that funding went to the frontline of tutors and learners. What seems to be happening is that ordinary teaching staff are facing the brunt of the job losses. Those jobs are not well-paid and many staff are effectively on zero hour contracts.

WELSH GOVERNMENT SLAMMED

We asked Sian Gwenllian AM, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Welsh Language, for her views. Ms Gwenllian told us: “The Welsh Government’s failure to commit to funding the Welsh for Adults course for next year has led to untold uncertainty. Across Wales, tutors who provide Welsh classes for adults are waiting nervously to hear whether their jobs will be secure, whilst hundreds of students want to know whether the course they want to enrol on will be run. “The Labour government needs to act with immediacy in order to secure their future. The Welsh for Adults budget has already been cut by almost £3m by the Labour government. If it is really planning further cuts to the National Centre, then how on earth is the government going to deliver on its manifesto commitment to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million? “In the election , Plaid Cymru pledged to double the Welsh for Adults budget with a promise to improve learning opportunities in the workplace, in the home and to promote the language amongst newcomers. It’s time for the Labour government to mimic our ambition. “There is a fortnight to go until the deadline for funding expires. Labour needs to end its dithering and act now.”

THE DISPUTE IN CEREDIGION

In Ceredigion, the County Council will cease to be a provider from July 31 , and The Herald has been told Council staff were told by Aberystwyth University in February that they had nothing to worry about – neither they nor their students would notice any difference, and everyone would be transferred to the university. At a meeting of staff in March, Ceredigion County Council staff were told that Aberystwyth University had not accepted the UWTSD offer, and that its lawyers had concluded that TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) protocol was not “relevant”. That protocol is intended to ensure that employees are not placed in any worse a position if a new employer substantially takes over the business of an old one.

As a result of the Aberystwyth University’s stance, staff were warned that this could mean either voluntary or compulsory redundancy.

In May, the Council issued redundancy notices to all 19 staff involved, with a rider that the process could be aborted if the university decided to take them on.

Most of the Council staff are stuck in limbo, with Aberystwyth University claiming it is still seeking answers from the Centre in Carmarthen regarding its contract.

Neither the University staff nor the Ceredigion staff have been told anything, and now there are just over 2 weeks to go before the end of the final term. Nobody knows if they will have a job after the end of July, and the course programme for the next academic year is stuck in limbo, unapproved. Tutors can’t even tell students if there will be any classes in the autumn.

Aggrieved tutors have contacted The Herald to complain that their treatment by the University has been ‘appalling’ and that the HR Department at Aberystwyth University is ‘god-awful’ and ‘the worst’.

NO REDUNDANCIES IN CARMARTHENSHIRE

Aeron Rees, Head of Learner Programmes at Carmarthenshire County Council , told The Herald : “Discussions are ongoing with the National Centre for Welsh for Adults and the proposed new provider for Welsh for Adults regarding the way forward in terms of future staffing and course delivery. No members of staff or tutors have been made redundant.”

THE UNIVERSITY RESPONDS

We asked Aberystwyth University to comment on the situation. A spokesperson told us: “Aberystwyth University has been offered the opportunity by the National Centre for Learning Welsh to deliver the Welsh for Adults education programme from August 2016 within three counties and is awaiting the formal contract.

“The University is considering the offer and, along with other providers, has taken legal advice on the staffing implications. In March 2016, we made a request for specific information from the National Centre for Learning Welsh in Carmarthen, which was set up by the Welsh Government.

“A final decision will be made when we have received this information and the full implications have been considered. We hope to be in a position to share our decision with staff and learners by the end of June 2016 .”

AT THE HEART OF THE ISSUE

A spokesperson for the National Centre for Learning Welsh explained: “Responsibility for the Welsh for Adults education programme transfers to the National Centre for Learning Welsh, a new organisation established by Welsh Government, on August 1 2016.

“The Centre has rationalised the number of providers and sub-providers delivering the programme in order to improve planning and raise standards. This is in line with the recommendations set out in the Government’s report Raising Our Sights: review of Welsh for Adults.

“Ten providers have been invited to deliver Welsh courses in different geographical areas. Nine providers have accepted the invitation and their course schedules have been confirmed for September.

“Aberystwyth University has been invited to deliver Welsh courses in Ceredigion, Powys and Carmarthenshire. The University’s response is expected shortly; in the meantime, the Centre is sharing all relevant information and facilitating discussions at a local level.

“In March, providers were informed it was not appropriate for the Centre to give legal advice on local employment matters and that providers should seek their own detailed counsel.

“The Centre is sensitive to the fact this is a period of change for the programme; it is fully-committed to ensuring provision is in place for Welsh language learners across Wales from September onwards.

“Information will be shared with tutors and learners in Ceredigion, Powys and Carmarthenshire as soon as possible.”

 

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Jon Coles

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