As with other areas of education, responsibility for the planning and delivery of further education in Wales is now largely devolved. The National Assembly for Wales has wide powers to pass primary legislation in relation to further education under section 108 of, and Schedule 7 to, the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GOWA 2006). In addition, most executive (government) functions have now passed from the Secretary of State to the Welsh Ministers.
Much of the legislation now made in relation to further education in Wales is made by the National Assembly for Wales or the Welsh Ministers but there is a significant amount of existing (UK Parliament) legislation (particularly primary legislation) that applies to both England and Wales. Parts of this legislation apply differently in relation to Wales and should be read carefully as a consequence, particularly where executive powers are mentioned. Most executive powers have transferred to the Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales but references to the Secretary of State may remain on the face of the legislation.
Further education is generally provided in colleges to students over the age of 16. In some ways further education can be seen to fill the gap between secondary education (usually provided in schools) and higher education (usually provided in universities) and may help students progressing between these.
Post-16 or 'further' education encompasses various kinds of education and training suitable for people who are over compulsory school age, including vocational education and training. The primary focus is on those aged 16 to 18 but anyone over compulsory school age may participate in further education.
Part II of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (LSA 2000) makes specific provision for further education in Wales and sets out the Welsh Ministers’ powers and duties in relation to further education. Persons over compulsory school age in Wales are not obliged to participate in education or training but the Welsh Ministers are obliged to make provision for this education and training and to encourage people to participate in it.
The Welsh Ministers (with the assistance of local authorities and the governing institutions of schools and further education institutions) are responsible for devising local curriculums for the further education of 16 to 18 year olds. Different curriculums may be devised for different local areas but the courses that make up those curriculums must fall into the categories listed in section 33A of LSA 2000.
Post-16 education may be provided in school sixth-forms, in which case it will fall into the category of secondary (school) education rather than further education. Further education in Wales is, however, usually provided in further education institutions which are either further education corporations or existing educational institutions that have been designated by the Welsh Ministers to become part of the further education sector. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 sets out provisions relating to the establishment, dissolution, powers and responsibilities of further education institutions.
There is some blurring of the lines between further and higher education as further education institutions may provide higher education and higher education institutions may provide further education.
In relation to students under the age of 19, further education institutions are obliged to work with schools and local authorities in their area to maximise the effective use of public resources in relation to providing education and training to those students, in accordance with Part I of the Education (Wales) Measure 2011. This may involve collaborating with other institutions to provide courses on each other’s behalf or working jointly to secure the provision of courses.
Funding for post-16 education is provided directly by the Welsh Ministers to institutions and this funding may be subject to terms and conditions determined by the Welsh Ministers under section 35 of LSA 2000. For example, the Welsh Ministers can require that further education providers charge fees for the courses they offer.
Where fees are charged for further education some financial support may be available to students in Wales from the Welsh Government. This is now provided on an administrative basis rather than being based on a statutory scheme (as had previously been the case). Funding may also be provided for further education under section 14 of the Education Act 2002 (EA 2002) and Welsh Ministers may attach such terms and conditions to this funding as they consider appropriate. Section 16 of EA 2002 in particular allows for conditions requiring repayment of funding or for financial assistance to be passed on to others.
Further education providers are subject to inspection by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales (Estyn), who is appointed by, and reports to, the Welsh Ministers. Inspections take place at regular intervals and institutions are required to co-operate with inspections and to take action on any issues raised by the inspection. Part IV of LSA 2000 sets out the statutory framework for inspection of post-16 education and training in Wales.
The standard and quality of further education is closely monitored by the Welsh Ministers. As direct funders of further education, the Welsh Ministers have a number of oversight and intervention powers. They have powers to assess the provision of post-16 education and to require further education institutions to publish data relating to their performance. Under section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, if the Welsh Ministers believe that a further education institution is failing to perform its functions properly or is being mismanaged then they are able to intervene to remove and replace members of the governing body of the institution or, in serious cases, to require the institution to be dissolved.
The principal statutes that contain provisions applicable to further education in Wales are listed under 'key legislation'.