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The Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, Jane Davidson, has spoken in response to the Annual Report for 2004-5 of the Chief Inspector of Education and Training.

The report found that there remained a mixed picture for Wales. The Chief Inspector praised the work that had been done in driving up standards in primary and secondary education and recognised the rising level of success for adult learners. However, the level of provision in some Further Education colleges was singled out for criticism, and the level of work based learning and vocational learning provision was found to be inadequate on the whole with uneven provision. The minister preferred to take a positive approach to the report, whilst recognising that much still needs to be done to bring skills and education provision onto an equal footing.

Pleased at Publication

Stating that she was "pleased" at the publication of the report, Ms. Davidson pointed out that the separate and distinctive agenda for Wales was part of the reason for the rise in achievement, saying: "It is pleasing to see that the Chief Inspector's annual report confirms that our distinctive agenda for Wales - The Learning Country - continues to raise standards, break down barriers to learning, lift our skills base and remove obstacles to effective learning and teaching."

She also took the time to praise the new inspection framework, saying: "This is the initial report based on evidence drawn from Estyn's new inspection framework. The framework provides, for the first time, a common base for inspection of all the key sectors of education and training. And the news for practitioners and learners across Wales is that there is much to celebrate.

"Early years provision and schools provide the bedrock for learning," she continued. I am pleased, therefore, with the Chief Inspector's conclusion that under 5s are making good or very good progress in nearly all settings." She also welcomed the findings on teaching quality, saying: "In addition, the quality of teaching in the primary and secondary sectors continues to improve year on year. Overall this is a substantial achievement although there is still much to do."

The gap in attainment between boys and girls was highlighted in the inspection report, and Ms. Davidson stated that she was committed to closing that gap, saying: "I share the Chief Inspector's view that we need to close the gap between the relative achievement of boys and girls and I have asked Estyn to provide further advice on how we can build on best practice to improve the performance of boys "“ generally in literacy and in particular in the National Curriculum subjects of English and Welsh."

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Work Ahead

The findings of the report regarding the need to improve work "“ based learning were accepted by the minister, who said: "I share the Inspectorate's assessment that we need to continue to improve the quality of work based learning. Work is already in hand to review the performance of providers and to drive up quality and standards where they are not satisfactory. Where providers have been identified as giving rise to concern, ELWa will be requiring action to address these concerns immediately with a view to demonstrating an improvement over the course of the next 6 months. Ongoing support will be provided by Learning Provision teams with soon-to-be-appointed Performance Improvement Advisers targeting providers identified as having greatest need of support.

"Our approach in Wales looks to put the interests of learners first and offer wider access and opportunities for all," she continued. "I was particularly pleased, therefore, that the Chief Inspector's report was launched at City and County of Swansea Employment Training. Work based learning has a central role to play in ensuring that we have rich and diverse range of opportunities both for 14-19 year olds and to support the development of our skills base."

She also went into some detail regarding what is next in the challenge of meeting this skills provision gap, saying: "But there is always room for improvement. That is why we have appointed a Vocational Skills Champion. His job is to raise the profile of vocational learning and skills, identifying the key barriers that are holding back the expansion of good quality vocational learning for all age groups. I have also asked ELWa to submit an Improvement Plan for Work Based Learning by the end of the January. A key aim of the Improvement Plan will be to ensure that standards in the work based learning sector are improved sufficiently to ensure it can contribute to the success of the 14-19 Learning Pathways."

Ms. Davidson concluded by saying that she and ELWa are "firmly on track to realise our ambition to make Wales a learning country." Whether or not this comes to pass will depend greatly on the ability of the Vocational Skills Champion and of ELWa to drive forward in productive directions and to establish the best procedures for long term success.

Jethro Marsh

Is this how to improve vocational and work based learning in Wales? Tell us your reaction to the report and to Ms. Davidson's response in the FE Blog

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