FE colleges could do more with stronger student union lobbying power

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Here’s a round-up of questions to the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor).

Giving FE students a stronger voice

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) asked about support for students’ mental health. While at university level it’s funded to the tune of £2million extra this year, further education colleges received just an additional £175,000 despite there being more FE college students. Student unions often played a key role in lobbying for extra funding.

“One of the reasons universities put forward or campaigned for money for mental health initiatives was due to the work that the NUS did in part of that process working with the Government on it….I was a former sabbatical officer at Aberystwyth University, so I saw and implemented those particular policies. But many in FE are still not experiencing that student voice or are not able to access that student voice as much as their higher education peers.”
– Bethan Sayed AM

The Minister told her that discussions with Colegau Cymru on this issue were ongoing. There were also examples of good work within some FE colleges that have effective student unions. Student voices are expected to be strengthened in a forthcoming post-compulsory education Bill.

Shadow Minister taken to school

Shadow Skills Minister, Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East), asked what seemed to be a reasonable enough question on teachers’ workloads. Last year, an independent panel said it could only be addressed by looking at the wider issue of how schools schedule work and the school day itself – more or less unchanged since Victorian times. He thought it might be worth setting up a commission to look at it.

It seems though that the Shadow Minister didn’t do his homework.

“I have to say, Presiding Officer, it would be helpful if the Member could keep up. That commission was established several months ago under the chairmanship of Mick Waters. It includes headteachers from Wales and school governors from Wales as well as independent experts outside the Welsh education system.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

When Mohammad Asghar moved on to the issue of school funding and providing cash directly to schools, the Education Minister brushed it off by saying it would help if UK Government austerity ended.

Education to prevent homelessness

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) asked about what information and education is offered to young people to prevent homelessness. With the Youth Parliament recently calling for better teaching of “life skills”, he added that “the skill of keeping a tenancy going, and the skill of knowing where to go for help when things break down is an essential one”.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believed the only way to change attitudes and misconceptions about homelessness and homeless people was education and she suggested homeless people’s experiences should be used to inform young people.

The Minister was clear that homelessness required an approach across all public services, with youth services taking the lead within education.

Not being in education, training or employment was often a “warning sign” of a young person in danger of becoming homeless, so it was important to encourage good attendance. She also expects the new curriculum to be flexible enough to allow students to meet and discuss issues with people who have direct experience of them.

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