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His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, 10 June 1921 to 9 April 2021

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What action is the welsh government considering and why?

The Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak began in China in December 2019 and spread to the UK in January 2020. During spring 2020, the UK and Welsh Governments gradually increased social distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the virus.  Welsh schools, colleges, universities and training providers closed for face-to-face learning on Friday 20 March 2020 (apart from core provision in schools for vulnerable children and the children of key workers).  

This impact assessment focuses on the Post 16 Resilience Plan 2020, and its corresponding Delivery Plan and guidance measures, which set out medium and longer-term actions to help support learning providers, learners and staff to prepare for the future.

The plan is organised into three stages:

  • Rescue - making sure providers have security of funding and immediate arrangements for continuity of learning are in place, March to July 2020
  • Review - planning for potential changes to provision, funding and learning delivery for autumn 2020 and beyond, May to September 2020
  • Renew - putting revised arrangements in place for the academic year 2020 to 2021, and evaluating the impacts of Covid-19, September 2020 to March 2021.

Post Covid-19 lockdown and move to online provision

Welsh schools, colleges, universities and training providers closed for face-to-face learning on Friday 20 March (apart from core provision in schools for vulnerable children and the children of key workers).  

In the post-16 sector, providers shifted to remote learning delivery as far as possible, primarily through digital methods; in practice, the arrangements varied, given the wide range of learner circumstances, access to devices and connectivity, and course types.  

Initial work focused on giving clarity and reassurance to the sector about areas including funding, learner support, and performance requirements, so that providers could make decisions and act on them.  

The FE sector set its own benchmark for online engagement which reflected the weekly guided contact hours for an average Level 2 or Level 3 main qualification. Colleges indicated that around 75 per cent of learners met this benchmark, although this varied between colleges and was affected by learners’ access to devices and connectivity, which in turn reflected economic and geographical differences. Some apprentices were furloughed by their employers and were unable to continue their “on the job” learning. Again, this varied widely by sector meaning that for some providers almost all of their apprentices were still working, while for others up to 75 per cent were furloughed but may have been continuing to learn online. Providers delivered flexible online learning in the majority of cases, and used “keeping in touch” strategies to keep learners engaged. In adult learning funded through local authorities, a variety of approaches and platforms were used, but many learners did not have access to the devices, connectivity and/or skills to be able to learn remotely.  

Even before learning providers closed their doors, it became clear that the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak was such that it would require some unprecedented policy decisions. On 16 March the Minister for Education and Estyn made a joint video announcement that inspection and other related activities for schools and providers would be suspended from this date until the current situation passed. This decision was made to help education and training providers to focus fully on the wellbeing of their learners, their staff and their families. 

On 18 March, the Minister for Education announced that the summer 2020 examination series (GCSEs, AS and A levels) would not take place; learners would be awarded grades based on their previously completed work and teacher estimates. Qualifications Wales has been working with other UK regulators and awarding organisations to develop an approach for vocational qualifications, which involves a mix of calculated results where possible, and adapted or delayed assessments.

The economic impact of the crisis is unfolding at an extraordinary pace, with the number of potential redundancies, business closures, and unemployment levels likely to rise to over 10%. This is affecting millions of people who are being furloughed, losing incomes, or losing their jobs entirely. 

As in previous recessions, we would expect the people most severely affected will be those who are already most disadvantaged in the labour market. There is good evidence, as set out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation that adverse effects are likely to be felt particularly by those in low paid jobs; those with lower skills levels; those who have more “fragile” terms of employment; and younger workers. These are also groups who have suffered disproportionately in the aftermath of previous recessions.  

Young and new entrants to the labour market are particularly vulnerable. International evidence suggests that the “class of 1981” experienced long lasting scarring by entry to the labour market during recession and early unemployment, and there was a sustained focus on this group in the last recession. Young people are also more likely to be on zero-hour contracts, and therefore more at risk of lost incomes.

Post 16 Resilience Plan 2020

The Welsh Government’s offer across skills and employability is crucial in supporting those most likely to be negatively impacted upon in the future Welsh labour market.   The post-16 provider network is at the heart of the economic and social recovery. It is well placed to take this role, with a civic mission that includes serving society’s disadvantaged groups as well as meeting the needs of the labour market.

The Welsh Government worked with providers and organisations across the sector to develop the response to Covid-19, including; HEFCW, Universities Wales, Colegau Cymru, Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, the National Training Federation for Wales (NTFW), Qualifications Wales, JISC, and Estyn.  

Individual providers within the sector were also consulted on the contents of the plan. It was not possible at this time to involve learners in the discussions, but plans are being implemented to ensure that learners are engaged in research and evaluation of the proposals, and in the development of any further guidance and support.

The resilience plan sets out medium and longer-term actions to help support learning providers, learners and staff to prepare for the future.

The plan was essential as there was no feasible way for the sector to return to ‘normal’ in the climate. Action was necessary to ensure the safety and security of both learners and staff within the sector.

The plan included the higher education, further education, apprenticeships, employability and adult learning sectors. Sixth forms were not within the direct scope of this plan, as there was a separate continuity of learning plan for schools. However, delivery of this plan was co-ordinated with activities in the schools sector; which helped to support learners’ transition despite disruptions to their learning and assessment, and help learners to make the choices that were right for them and enable them to develop their own informed learning pathways. It was important that there were clear and joined-up messages to learners and parents across all education sectors, particularly in respect of the reopening of settings for face-to-face learning.

The plan enabled the Welsh Government to:

  • Clearly articulate its expectations of how post-16 providers will respond
  • Define the support and information that Welsh Government will provide to the sector
  • Outline the priority groups likely to be most impacted and in need of priority support
  • Structure its work with the post-16 sector throughout 2020 and beyond
  • Work with key stakeholders to promptly and effectively communicate decisions, plans and requirements
  • Communicate key information to current and prospective learners, parents and carers, and employers as the situation evolves.

The costs of delivering remotely or through blended learning were initially covered within existing budgets, although bids have been made to the Star Chamber for additional funding to cover specific projects and interventions (including funding for lap tops for disadvantaged learners; and additional funding to support learners to complete their courses over the summer).

The Welsh Government already has the powers necessary to undertake this work. No additional legislation is required.

In completing this IIA, we have used statistics available through the Lifelong Learning Wales Record (LLWR) as published on the Stats Wales website; and evidence collected by the Education Workforce Council (EWC) as part of a Workforce Development scoping study.

Ongoing support

Following publication of the Resilience Plan, we have worked with the sector to continue to develop guidance and support to prepare for the continuation of learning provision from September. This includes development of a ‘Renew’ document which provides a strategic framework for all providers and a guidance document providing advice on the safe operation of provision from the autumn term. In addition, work streams have been established that focus on key areas for delivery going forward – including a focus on digital learning, Learner Wellbeing, and evidence.

As a consequence, this impact assessment assesses our immediate response to the crisis, the development of initial guidance and support and informs the development of ongoing support.

Conclusion

How have people most likely to be affected by the proposal been involved in developing it?

In drafting this plan we have worked with a range of colleagues who represent those who will be directly affected by it. These include:

  • Colegau Cymru
  • Individual Colleges
  • National Training Federation for Wales
  • Estyn
  • Jisc
  • Quality Assurance Agency for HE (QAA)
  • Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
  • University and College Union (UCU).

Due to lockdown, it was not possible to seek the views of learners at this stage. However, proposals to engage learners in the wider development of guidance and policies to continue to support provision are being developed within the work streams.

The plan was discussed at the Post-Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) Change Board where members were offered the opportunity to comment and amend the document.  

Underpinning guidance and resources, such as guidance on recommencing face-to-face learning in the post-16 sector, is subject to extensive consultation with learning providers, Joint Trade Unions and other stakeholders.

What are the most significant impacts, positive and negative?

Resuming learning within post-16 education will have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of learners and a positive impact on the overall economy.

In a study by the mental health charity YoungMinds, 2,111 people aged under 25, who had a history of mental health needs, were asked how the pandemic had affected them. 

  • 32% agreed that it had made their mental health much worse
  • 51% agreed that it had made their mental health a bit worse

Resuming face-to-face learning will have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing as the routine nature of schools and college life is known to help support mental illness. 

There will also be some economic benefits as vocational learners completing programmes/ assessments will be a priority group. However it is not possible to quantify a direct economic impact. 

Reopening the provider network will have a positive impacts on supply chains – contracted out cleaners, transport companies, canteen staff etc.

It will also help to engage NEET/unemployed learners including through (existing and new) employability provision.

Whilst the primary impact of these policies will be positive, we must be mindful of some potentially negative impacts.

Generally, the workforce within FE and work based learning (WBL) is older than that within schools. As such, the workforce could be deemed as more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

It is not known what percentage of the current workforce or learners are in the ‘High Risk’ or ‘Vulnerable’ categories. Whilst shielding ended on 16 August, some learners remain vulnerable and providers will need to be aware of this before they resume face-to-face learning. 

Learning providers are required to complete detailed Risk Assessments before any suggestion of opening can be agreed. As employers, learning providers are subject to the Management of Health and Safety in the Workplace Regulations 1999.  

In light of the impacts identified, how will the proposal: 

  • maximise contribution to our well-being objectives and the seven well-being goals; and/or,

  • avoid, reduce or mitigate any negative impacts?

Enabling learners to return to face-to-face learning at the earliest opportunity is a positive reinforcement of the well-being objectives. Those learners who do not have access to on-line provision are currently at a disadvantage; and resuming scheduled routines would have a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of both staff and learners. 

However, there are potential negative impacts. There is no evidence available to ascertain what level of risk young people (who make up the majority of full time learners within FE) are – either to themselves or others – of contracting Covid-19. In addition, the staff within the post-16 sector are generally older than those within schools and as such may be more at risk.

To mitigate any potentially negative impacts, providers will be required to complete risk assessments before any learners are allowed within the premises.   

How will the impact of the proposal be monitored and evaluated as it progresses and when it concludes?

A specific work stream focused on Monitoring and Evaluation has been incorporated into the delivery plan and will aim to:

  • identify “lessons learnt” from our response to Covid-19
  • identify and share good practice, including innovative approaches to learning delivery, learner support and professional learning
  • establish revised arrangements for planning, funding and performance measures
  • evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on learners and on the sector as a whole
  • evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on Welsh Medium and Bilingual Provision
  • identify learning that can be effectively applied to future business continuity challenges
  • find opportunities to retain the positive outcomes, such as reduced bureaucracy, rapid decision-making, increased online learning, and improved communications.

This Workstream will look to work with stakeholders and learners to determine the impacts of the proposals.

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