Happy birthday, Graham Attwell

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …

Happy birthday, Graham Attwell

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …

Dysgu Ponty

The Pontydysgu website is always full of news about the big projects we are involved in, like FP7 Learning Layers or Taccle2.  This is pretty inevitable as they take up the majority of our time and budget.  However, there are lots of other, smaller Pontydysgu projects running in the background that we rarely post anything about.  This is a bit of an oversight because although we often use these projects as test beds for trying out new ideas or as vehicles for piloting specific bits of technology that we then roll together in a much bigger package, they are also successful in their own right.

All of them are running in Pontypridd, (known locally as “Ponty”) which is where the Wales half of Pontydysgu is based. Some are part funded through the LLL Partnerships programme; some are funded in-house. We thought we might write a series of posts on what these projects are all about….

First up is Dysgu Ponty, which translates to Learning Ponty.  We chose this name because apart from the play on Pontydysgu (meaning approximately Bridge to Learning), we wanted to convey the idea that the whole community of Ponty was learning and that the town called Ponty was a learning resource.

The project is based on a very simple concept – let’s cover the town with QR codes linked to a learning resource.   The codes are being printed on decals (for shop windows), enamel (for the exteriors of building) and on varnished wooden plaques for hanging around trees in the park.  Codes come in three colours – red for Welsh, green for the English translation and black for careers.

So far we have 200 and our target is at least another hundred.  The town has a population of 30,000 but this covers all of the outlying villages as well.  It also has a great sense of community, which means that the level of support has been brilliant. The whole community is involved – schools, the Town Council, shops, businesses, the local newspaper

The link from each QR code goes to a website page on which there is a question that relates to the location.  The level is approximately 8 -12 yrs olds. Following the title question is some simple information using a range of multi media.   The location of the codes will be on Google Maps and we are currently sorting them out into a ‘Maths trail’, ‘Language trail’, ‘History trail’ etc so that children can choose whether to follow a subject trail or focus on the codes in one part of the town.

The purpose of the project is really to provide a bridge between formal and informal learning and to improve home school links.

We are currently working of a way of  ‘rewarding’ children for completing a number of questions – not sure Mozilla badges quite fits.  Also thinking about how we can get kids to be able to upload pictures as well as comments. May rethink the platform.

Meanwhile here are some examples of the sorts of things we are talking about

Location:  on the bandstand in the park

  • Links to… Question:  Have you ever heard brass band music?
  • Additional ‘information’ – mp3 of Colliery Brass Band with one line of text explaining that most all the pits had their own band

Location: Outside Costa Coffee

  • Links to… Question: Do you know where coffee comes from?
  • Additional information: You Tube video of coffee being harvested and processed

Location: Outside travel agent underneath exchange rates

  • Links to… Question:  How much is it worth?
  • Additional info:  Text and image – If you had £37.50 to take on holiday, how many Euros would you get?  Which travel agent in town has the best exchange rate today?

Location:  On the river bank adjacent to the confluence

  • Links to…mQuestion:  What rivers are these and where is their source?
  • Additional info:  The place where two rivers merge is called a ‘confluence’.  Use Google Earth to trace the two rivers back as far as you can, find out their names and where the river enters the sea.

 Location:  On the war memorial

  • Links to… Question:  How many died?
  • Additional info: Look at the names on the Great War memorial and then the names on the Worls War 2 memorial.  In which war were the greatest number of people from Pontypridd killed? How many times more people?  Why do you think this was?

 Location: Market Street

  • Links to…Question:  What has changed?
  • Additional Info: Picture of the street taken 100 years ago from same spot. Text – List all the things that are different between Market Street in 1910 and the same street today.
You get the idea!
[We also have black codes for older students linked to careers information as part of the EU New Jobs project.  The codes take them to links asking "So you want to be a baker?" or "So you want to be a printer?" with videos explaining what the job involves, what qualifications or skills you need etc. Some are purpose made and some from You Tube or Vimeo.  More on this is another post.]
Next time – Learning about Art in Ponty




Only 15 per cent of UK companies offer apprenticeship training

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has published an interesting survey of Employer Perspectives Survey, the second in a series of biennial, large scale surveys of employers designed to provide a UK-wide picture of employer perspectives of, and experiences in, the recruitment and skills landscape. The draw attention to the following key findings:

  • There are perhaps unexpected signs of business confidence amongst private sector employers: almost half of establishments expect their business to grow in the coming year, and there is also greater confidence amongst younger businesses than older ones.
  • Employers typically use a range of channels when they are looking to recruit. They tend to make most use of private recruitment services which they do not have to pay for. Indeed, the single most common channel employers used to find candidates to fill vacant posts was ‘word of mouth’.
  • Candidates’ qualifications play a role in most employers’ recruitment processes and decisions, and a significant role for more than two in five. Academic qualifications continue to be better regarded than vocational qualifications.
  • Whilst the majority of employers train and plan their training there is a significant core of employers that do not.
  • Employers are more likely to provide training internally than to access the external workforce development market, although overall around half of employers do use external channels to deliver workforce development for their staff.
  • Employers most commonly look to commercial providers (private sector training firms or third sector providers) when they are looking outside of their own organisation to deliver training.
  • Overall take up of vocational qualifications remains at a steady level. However, there has been qualitative improvement in satisfaction with vocational qualifications amongst those employers that offer them.
  • Only a minority of all UK establishments offer apprenticeships (15 per cent). However, almost a quarter of those who don’t currently offer Apprenticeships expect to in the coming 2-3 years.
  • Employers are open to the recruitment of, or providing opportunities to, young people. Just over a quarter of all establishments, or 62% of those who had recruited, had recruited a young person in the previous 12 months. A quarter of all establishments had offered a placement to schools, college or university students.

A number of these findings appear significant. Employers still often rely on word of mouth – i.e. informal networks – when recruiting. And if qualifications play significant role for more than two in five decisions about who to recruit this means for three out of five they do not! The report also notes that

Academic qualifications continue to be better regarded than vocational qualifications and that when employers are looking to recruit new employees to key occupational roles, they usually anticipate that they will need to develop these new recruits’ skills, at least to some extent. UKCES report that employers are more likely to provide training internally (63 per cent did so) than to access the external workforce development market. Furthermore there is a wide sectoral variation in the provision of external training, ranging from 86 per cent in the Non-Market Services to 49 per cent in Trade, Accommodation and Transport sector.

Prospects for young people are problematic. “Amongst those active in the labour market in the last 12 months, the recruitment of young people was highest in the Trade, Accommodation and Transport sector at 71 per cent falling to between 55 and 59 per cent in all other sectors. This reflects the roles they are recruited to: 21 per cent of all employers recruiting young people reported that their most recent recruit was to a Sales and Customer Service role and 20 per cent to an Elementary occupation.”

Just 15 per cent of enterprises were offering apprenticeships. And of those that were: “Approaching a third of those who offer formal Apprenticeships (31 per cent) offer Apprenticeships that take 12 months or less to complete, and five per cent offer Apprenticeships with a duration of six months or less.”

All in all the report reveals some pretty big challenges ahead if the UK is going to develop an advanced education and training system, especially where employers are concerned.


UK apprenticeships just rebranded short training courses?

I have written several posts about the UK government’s new apprenticeship schemes. Although welcoming the attention being paid to apprenticeship, I drew attention to concerns about the quality and length of the new programmes, questioning whether many of the programmes could really be called apprenticeships. I also drew attention to concerns that allowing any short course to be called an apprenticeship would damage the credibility of apprenticeship schemes and qualifications.

Now it seems that senior officials at the UK government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, responsible for the development of apprenticeship schemes, have expressed similar concerns.

A report in the Guardian newspaper says discussions over the past fortnight between senior officials have described politicians’ claims about the high apprentice numbers as “dishonest” as they do not reflect the actual demographics of those involved.

The Guardian says: “The government document acknowledges that problems of quality had been raised. in diminishing of quality has had been raised with them. “Growth review consultees have registered concerns about the quality of some apprenticeships, focusing in particular on the intermediate level dominated expansion, the value of some shorter apprenticeships and the increasing number of existing (older) employees in the programme.” It reports that the department has been warned “not to undermine the apprenticeship brand”.

One critic is reported as telling officials: “To badge some of the lower end training as apprenticeships misleads learners and employers as to its value.”

But while the document defends the inclusion of existing employees and older learners, it says: “If we remain committed to calling less substantial training activities an ‘apprenticeship’, it is important to be aware of the impact this may have on public perceptions of the brand.”"

In a further report the Guardian education reporter Jessica Shepherd says that “some 422,700 people started apprenticeships of all kinds in the academic year just gone – a rise of more than half on the year before when the figure was 279,700.”

However she goes on to suggest that many of these are following courses rebranded from the previous Labour government’s Train to Gain programme, scrapped after critical Audit Office reports.

“Over-25s account for 40% of the total number of new apprentices. The growth in the number of under-19s starting apprenticeship has slowed. In the last academic year, it grew by 10%, from 17.5% the year before.

Then there’s the equally problematic issue of what sectors these apprenticeships are in. Ministers want the economy to be less reliant on retail and more on construction.

But while the number of apprenticeships started in retail and commercial enterprises rose by 63% in the last academic year, there was just a 5.3% increase in those started in construction, planning and the built environment. While the number starting apprenticeships in business, administration and law grew by more than 70%, those in engineering and manufacturing technologies rose by almost a quarter.”