In the spring, WMCETT won funding from LSIS for the establishment of Change Exchanges across the West Midlands.
The original idea was to establish sub-regional creative and knowledge transfer networks for providers in lifelong learning across the West Midlands. The Change Exchanges were designed to give opportunities for providers to share plans, practices and priorities to generate income and maintain a diversity of provision that meets the needs of employers and learners.
It was hoped the benefits would include the following, which were later achieved:
- Greater understanding and sharing of responses to recent funding changes and new policy priorities.
- Greater collaboration and co-operation between WBL, ACL, FE, HE and third sector providers.
- Stronger links with LEPs and other regional or national agencies to inform their emerging roles.
- Sharing knowledge about new and different models of delivery
The funding landscape for lifelong learning had changed, raising many questions for people in the sector. We soon discovered that the new Local Enterprise Partnerships were becoming established and were important players in the field, but that many people were still unaware of what their purpose was, and what they could do.
We initially decided to hold three meetings in June in different parts of the West Midlands – one at Walsall College covering Walsall and Birmingham, one at the RAF Cosford Museum for Staffordshire and Shropshire, and one at NEW College in Bromsgrove for Coventry, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
We invited people from each geographical area to attend, representing FE colleges, the Third Sector, local authority adult and community learning, and work based learning. At the first round we were able to also get a representative from each LEP, except for Birmingham, to attend the meetings, which enabled us to see how developed each one was, how they varied and what their priorities were. A representative of the Skills Funding Agency also attended each meeting to talk about their new priorities, how they were operating and their planned restructure.
At each meeting there were presentations from the SFA and LEP, which many people found very informative, and our facilitator Susie Knight led discussions. In each one participants made new contacts, learned more about each other’s sector and in some cases found common ground. Comments were also made which informed the second round of meetings.
During the summer Susie and Jill Hardman, WMCETT Project co-ordinator, carried out interviews with many of the participants to further establish their concerns and the challenges their organisations were facing.
In September and early October another round of meetings was held; this time, we split one of them, so there was a meeting at Worcestershire County Council for Worcestershire and Herefordshire delegates, and one at the University of Warwick for people from Coventry and Warwickshire. We were pleased to again involve representatives of the LEPs covering the area – the Black Country, The Marches, Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire, Coventry and Warwickshire, and Worcestershire. Birmingham had planned to attend this time but had to send apologies the day before. We were also able to have a senior BIS Local representative at one meeting, and a senior Jobcentre Plus representative at another, in response from suggestions from people in the first round of meetings, and this helped inform our debates. Officers from more council economic development departments also attended.
At the time of the second round of meetings, the SFA restructure had just gone ahead, so we heard about how this was working in practice, and people at all four meetings had lots of questions. We were also updated on the LEP developments over the summer and participants had questions about their priorities and how they work in practice.
The meetings were informative and useful for everyone involved, with lots of information shared between organisations which sometimes work together, and between those that had not previously considered having contact, but now realised that they had issues in common and may benefit from working together.
On 31 October, leaders of all five West Midlands projects met for a day of workshops at the Techno Centre in Coventry where they presented the findings from their projects to people who had been involved in the other projects. A final report was also written for LSIS and the Excellence Gateway website.
Some of the key questions emerged around the LEPs - how they will inform the learning and skills agenda, and address needs - and where they will get data from. There were a number of questions around the changed role of the SFA and how it will work in practice, and the emerging roles and relationships of Jobcentre Plus. The changes affecting FE, ACL, work-based learning and the Third Sector and how each will adapt and find new ways of working were also key.
WMCETT hopes that the Change Exchange network members will continue to meet in 2012, to address and explore these issues.
Meeting at NEW College, Bromsgrove, June 2011
Meeting at RAF Cosford Museum, June 2011
Meeting at Walsall College, June 2011