THE EDUCATION FILE: Hopes that new Blaenau Gwent college will turn education around
AREAS of Gwent have some of the highest proportion of people with no qualifications in the whole of Wales, the latest Census results show. We look at what is happening in the worst affected area to try to turn things around.
BLAENAU Gwent is home to the highest proportion of people with no qualifications, the 2011 Census has revealed.
More than a third – 36 per cent – of people living there don’t hold a single GCSE.
This is 10 per cent higher than the Wales average, when taking into account all residents aged 16 and over living in an area.
This compares with 31.4 per cent in Caerphilly, 28.9 per cent in Torfaen, 27 per cent in Newport and 20.7 per cent in Monmouthshire.
Blaenau Gwent is also home to the lowest number of people with degree qualifications, and none of its secondary schools are in the top two bands of the Welsh Government’s rating system, based on GCSE results and pupil attendance.
One of its schools – Tredegar Comprehensive – is among the worst performing in Wales.
The council’s own education authority was put into special measures in 2011 and commissioners took over its running, but last month Education Minister Leighton Andrews said things had improved.
So things appear to be looking up and it is hoped the situation will improve further thanks to the multi-million-pound transformation of the former steelworks site into an education hub.
Thanks to both council and Welsh Government investment The Works is home to the state-ofthe- art Learning Zone and Wales’ first age-three-to-18 school, known as the Ebbw Fawr Learning Community.
More than 1,400 students from Pontygof and Waunlwyd primary schools have now started at the new school, with youngsters from Glyncoed and Ebbw Vale comprehensive schools due to move in next year.
The £57 million building boasts state-of-the-art IT equipment, as well as specialist drama, science, design technology and art teaching areas.
And with the new post-16 Learning Zone just down the road, it is hoped students will find it easier to make the transition between primary and secondary to further education, encouraging more people to stay on.
Graeme Harkness, founding director of Ebbw Fawr Learning Community, said the opportunities now available to students in the area were second to none, opening up opportunity not only for youngsters, but their parents and grandparents too.
He said: “We are ideally placed to work alongside the council and the Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone to consider how our superb new facilities in both the primary and secondary buildings can be used out of hours for the benefit of the community.
“We have already held discussions with local universities to see how perhaps foundation degrees can be taught from our locations in the evening.
“Our ICT facilities will certainly be available for those parents who wish to learn new skills, which might lead to further qualifications.
“There’s never been a better time to improve education for the whole community – the facilities are simply stunning and will inspire anyone to learn.”
A spokeswoman for Coleg Gwent said it was working with local schools, universities and businesses to address some of the challenges that Blaenau Gwent faces.
This not only includes helping people to achieve qualifications, but providing them with skills that will improve employment prospects.
She said: “Regeneration in the region, particularly in education, offers a bright future for Blaenau Gwent and we’re confident that Coleg Gwent is playing its part to significantly reduce the figure by the next Census.” Free courses to help the unemployed THE Blaenau Gwent Adult Education Service runs day and evening courses in numeracy and literacy free of charge.
Courses are available from entry level to GCSEs, as well as short basic skills courses like admin skills.
A Basic Skills Team has been appointed, whose job it is to target hard-to-reach learners in the community.
They offer courses in English to those who speak other languages and give advice and check the progress of people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) who are receiving state benefit.
Blaenau Gwent has a significantly higher number of economically inactive people, compared to the national average, which include a high number of single parents.
The council helps to support these in the community through Flying Start, Families First, Genesis, and Communities First to offer opportunities that aim to stimulate interest in further learning and encourage business startups through short courses in hair and beauty, cake decoration and floristry.