It’s not rocket science to say that at the heart of every world class economy there lies a world class education and skills system driving it forward.
That is why at the last Assembly election in 2011 Welsh Labour promised the Welsh people that we would raise attainment and skills across the board and develop the high aspiration, high achieving system that can deliver the economic growth that will be the motor to eradicate poverty across Wales.
Over the last three years, we have been delivering the long term changes to transform Welsh schools, colleges and universities and raise standards for all learners at all levels. Despite the deep cuts handed down by the UK Coalition we have ensured every part of our education system gets the funding it needs to succeed. We have delivered on our commitment to increase the spending on schools in Wales by at least 1% above the Welsh block, put in place the biggest capital investment programme our schools system has ever seen, protected funding for 16-19 learners in Further Education and thanks to the new funding regime we have developed, ensured income to Welsh schools will rise by nearly £200m by 2016.
We’re undertaking a fundamental review of HE finance so our Universities are financially fit for the 21st Century with a view to strengthening part-time and postgraduate provision that has been decimated across the border. We have successfully delivered a number of mergers in further education over the last three years, secured funding for full-time learners, passed new legislation to secure its autonomy and are delivering on our manifesto commitment to ensure a common contract for employees working in the sector.
We are also taking action to increase the numbers of young people on a positive learning path and to bolster our qualifications landscape. Our new Youth Engagement and Progression Action Plan sets an ambitious target to increase the numbers of young people engaged in employment and training and we are setting up a new independent body, Qualifications Wales, to improve the quality of our qualifications and ensure they meet the needs of employers. We are also taking action on jobs and growth by increasing the funding for apprenticeships in and secured extra funding for the successful Jobs Growth Wales programme which has created over 10,000 jobs for our young people with another £12.5m committed for 2015/16.
Central to this is creating a new approach to skills. Like all other nations, we cannot afford to ignore the fact that we are part of a global race to develop our skills base. It is this issue that will define our future competitiveness and support Wales to evolve into the highly-skilled economy capable of raising productivity, reducing barriers into work and supporting people into employment. To achieve this future vision we have taken strategic steps to affect change in the long term.
Over recent months, I have been working with stakeholders to develop a new Policy Statement on Skills, the aim of which is to make that case for change and define a new set of principles under which we believe the skills system will need to operate in order to guarantee its ongoing resilience.
The Policy Statement focuses exclusively on our post-19 skills interventions and defines those activities that provide the skills needed to support employers and businesses. The statement covers the four priority areas for the Welsh Government of Skills for jobs and growth, Skills that respond to local needs, Skills that employers value and Skills for employment.
We have already achieved a great deal and there is some excellent practice across Wales which has had a significant impact on this agenda. However, there remain many challenges ahead, many of which cut across departments within the Welsh Government. The statement helps us work together to be creative and innovative in raising our skills base.
It will be followed by a consultation on co-investment in summer 2014 so I’d encourage everyone with an interest in skills in Wales to take part.
Ken Skates is Deputy Minister for Skills in the Welsh Government and AM for Clwyd South
Note: More information can be found at: http://wales.gov.uk/topics/educationandskills/skillsandtraining/policy-statement-on-skills/?lang=en