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.”
Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian
NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.
The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.
High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).
NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.
24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.
NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.
Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.
“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.
“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”
Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.
Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.
Major bequests for Aber research
TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.
The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.
Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.
The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.
The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.
“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”
Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.
The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.
“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”
In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.
Driving Wales to international skills success
AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.
The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.
Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.
This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.
Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.
Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.
Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.
“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”
In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.
“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.
“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”
Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.
“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”
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