Using data to respond to national and sector priorities

Since September 2014, VET providers (the Further Education Institutions) and local authorities have delivered programmes under the Post 16 Planning and Funding Framework. This Framework determines how provision in Wales is split between the Sector Subject Areas and influences changes in provision through discussion between VET schools and key stakeholders. Each VET school provides information on their provision through the completion of a standardised Programme Delivery Report (PDR).

To strengthen the PDR and to inform and influence curriculum planning, information on full-time provision from the PDRs was shared with the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) in 2016. Using this data and information from their own labour market intelligence, the SSCs advised on the likely number and levels of learners who planned to follow a full time programme in a VET school or take an apprenticeship.

The Post 16 Planning and Funding Framework is being used to develop a better understanding of the regional need for skills. Once the regional needs are clearer, the Regional Skills Partnerships develop their regional plans which are reviewed and assessed by the Ministry. These plans provide evidence to identify priorities for post 16 funding and provision. This work is based on the PDRs which ask VET schools to:

  • use a set of nationally-agreed codes and programme titles to describe their provision;
  • provide an update (if any) on how decisions about which programme to deliver were made and identify what data has been considered i.e. which employers, networks or partnerships have been consulted and what labour market intelligence has been used;
  • comment on whether the current and next year’s planned programmes reflect the needs of each sector and advise on whether there is a need to increase, decrease or maintain the provision;
  • advise on changes that are emerging in each sector in the next year;
  • advise on sector based developments planned over the next 2-5 years.

Each VET school’s PDR includes information for each sector, emerging trends and likely future changes. These reports help VET schools to decide which programmes to deliver to ensure value for money and meet national, regional, and sector priorities.

Each VET school works closely with one of the three Regional Skills Partnerships to support the Welsh Government’s plans for skills. This plan has the following four key roles for Regional Skills Partnerships:

  • to produce and analyse labour market information to inform the skills requirements in the regions and inform future priorities for funding;
  • to provide a mechanism to review regional skills provision and advise the Welsh Government on future priorities for funding skills in line with regional employment and skills needs;
  • to represent regional interests to inform a demand-led and sustainable skills system;
  • to act collectively and strategically to maximise available funds in a context of reducing public funds in the coming years.

The labour market intelligence from each Regional Skills Partnership includes an analysis of demand and supply based on regional skills needs and VET priorities. This labour market intelligence uses data produced by a range of organisations including Government, UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Sector Skills Councils, Regional Skills Partnerships, awarding bodies, universities, think tanks, other organisations and employers.

How the new EQAVET+ indicative descriptors are being used

VET schools are moving away from an emphasis on a ‘product’ where all delivery fits into rigid departmental structures governed by inspections and results tables. The move to a market or customer focus (i.e. a more individualised approach) is ruled by competitive forces and takes account of what is financially viable. This new model gives VET schools the opportunity to generate additional income, offer as much provision as possible, and provide services that meet the needs of their region.

What this means for a VET school – the example of Cardiff and Vale College – CAVC

Funding for VET schools is based on the programmes[1] they offer to learners and the outcomes achieved by learners in terms of their progression to employment or continuing study. These programmes are central to funding, planning, delivery and monitoring of provision under the Post-16 Planning and Funding Framework. At the end of each academic year programmes are monitored to evaluate their effectiveness when compared to their purpose and planned outcomes. This highlights programmes which are underperforming and, potentially, identifies areas where there is a shortage or demand for extra provision.

In addition to offering a standard set of full-time programmes, CAVC has developed income generating schemes to respond to declining government funding. These schemes include professional training for employers, higher education programmes, courses for international students, hiring rooms at the college and offering services to the public. To help CAVC to identify the sectors’ needs, the College has an Employer Advisory Board for each sector. These strengthen relationships with employers and ensure local skills and economic growth needs are met. These Boards provide a good opportunity to establish and maintain collaborative networks which can respond to the training needs of their stakeholders. Board members include directors from local employers – SMEs, national and multi-national organisations.

These employer boards enable CAVC to create learning opportunities based on real problems facing employers. These give learners opportunities to work on real business problems and offer employers innovative solutions. So far CAVC has worked with employers to develop more than 30 employer briefs which have engaged over 500 students e.g. Kier Construction asked students to decorate the boards surrounding a large construction site at a local museum. These boards are being used six months after the project finished.

CAVC has also created a team of sector advisors working on employability and progression. The advisors work with all learners to ensure their opportunities for work experience are of high quality and valuable for learners. The advisors develop strategic partnerships with major employers who can help learners to develop their employability skills, their ability to be ‘work ready’ and develop learners’ talents. The advisors also advise learners in relation to progression; offer careers guidance, and support learners who are at risk.

How is this practice linked to the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?

VET schools in Wales are being encouraged to consult more closely with social partners, and other stakeholders. This is helping to identify the training needs of the labour market and society and to identify specific local/individual needs. This more focused and individualised approach is improving the employability of learners and is helping employers to work more closely with local VET schools.

What problems were encountered and overcome in using the EQAVET+ descriptors?

The biggest challenge was developing a cross-college way of working. This is different from the traditional model where provision is based in departments and depends on the delivery of traditional programmes. The teaching staff need to develop new subjects, and deliver training to new customers at times and locations which meet their customers’ needs and not just within a rigid college timetable. This new model has led to underperforming courses being closed but the benefits of strengthened partnerships with local employers have outweighed any initial negative effects.

The move towards a market and customer focus requires new human resources policies, an IT infrastructure and an estates team prepared to support the new activities. It also requires the employment of people with different skills. This led the College to recruit business consultants with private sector expertise and experience. These consultants form the College’s commercial team which has grown from 12 to 40 people. The team’s partnership approach with employers has been assessed as ‘excellent’ by the external inspectors. This commercial team also assists other colleagues to develop their business understanding, skills at writing proposals and tenders, understanding of how to calculate the costs of a programme, and their awareness of sales skills and expertise.

What lessons have been learnt by using these EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?

It may seem obvious that VET schools need to recognise they have ‘customers’ – but it has required a radical shift to embrace this new way of thinking.

The new customer-led approach is part of a three year development plan. The development of new business opportunities, identifying new funding sources, generating new income by developing courses and services, and exploring ways for colleges to work together have demonstrated the College’s ability to meet the needs of employers and individuals in the region. The College’s commercial income has increased from £2.2m in 2012/13 to £5.4m in 2015/16.

This commercial income is invested in the College’s training facilities with significant benefits to learners. The learners’ success rate has improved and it is now one of the best in the sector (87% of learners achieve their main qualification – 2% above the national figure – and 82% of learners continue to further study or employment within two months of leaving). The number of learners enrolling for a programme has increased and the links with employers provide excellent opportunities for learners.

The commercial team speaks to and listens to around 200 employers every week. These employers appreciate that CAVC is focusing on the needs and interests of the community and is keen to create associations and partnerships. In recent years innovative, tailored and flexible collaborations have been secured with a range of international, national and local organisations. These include Deloitte, Admiral Insurance, GE Healthcare, GMAC Financial Services, two local 5-star hotels, a local brewery and other national and multi-national organisations.

[1] Only programmes which are listed in the Programmes Directory are eligible for funding.

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