Further Education Colleges in Wales are embracing the challenge of making Wales a more active nation, improving the health and wellbeing of learners and local communities.
Specialist college academies provide great opportunities for young people in traditional sports like rugby, netball and football. The facilities are often the steppingstone for future international honours. 14 of the current Wales rugby world cup squad in Japan were educated in FE colleges, developing their skills in the WRU Colleges league (Rygbi Pawb) and similar competitions.
During the last five years colleges have also embraced the challenge facing many young people to become more active, and to help improve their health and wellbeing. Providing a richer learning experience and tackling health inequalities now takes place hand in hand with the development of new skills.
Half of all 16-19 year olds in Wales now attend an FE college. This September across the thirteen colleges, 45,000 young people began a new chapter in their education journey, meeting new friends and studying towards future employment in a wide range of professions. They now have the opportunity to participate in a range of physical activities and sporting opportunities.
Iestyn Davies, Chief Executive Officer said, “Wales’ FE colleges are a national network of community hubs providing learning and skills. Colleges have embraced the need to get young people active and develop new leadership skills. They are supporting this through development of new community sport facilities and state of the art training and coaching centres.
“Colleges are employing specialist staff and creating new opportunities linked to tutorial programmes. FE provision combines the curriculum with the wider experiences offered outside of the lecture hall and workshop.
“Our national partnership with Sport Wales has helped to build the capacity of the sector to deliver sport, physical activity and wellbeing programmes that, alongside enriching the learner experience, enhance the educational outcomes of the young people involved.”
While nearly half of 16-19 year olds are active enough, getting regular exercise which would be expected in this age group, in some groups up to 50% of the learners have indicated they take part in no regular sport or physical activity. This lack of activity could potentially lead to long term health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and other illnesses associated with poor exercise habits.
ColegauCymru, working closely in partnership with Sport Wales, has been helping FE colleges to develop new opportunities for learners to be more active, participating in enjoyable activities created to fit around their lifestyle and college studies. Activity sessions are typically flexible, shorter in duration, and avoid busy times where students have other college and personal commitments.
Over 35 different types of activity have been delivered during the past year with sessions in yoga, Rock-robics, surfing, Forces Fitness, glow sports and indoor climbing, giving an idea of the range of options available. Over 6000 learners have taken part in new activities during 2018/19, with many of the sessions delivered by their fellow students working as volunteers and young ambassadors. Well over a thousand sessions have been delivered across Wales with potential for many more in the future.
Sport Wales Director of Community Engagement, Graham Williams said, “Sport Wales has the mission of unleashing the benefit of sport for everyone creating a more active nation and a lifelong enjoyment of sport. This can’t be achieved without collaborative partnership working, innovation and development of new coaches, instructors and leaders. Our work with ColegauCymru and the FE colleges in Wales during the last five years has embraced these objectives and provided valuable learning for all partners involved in the process. Getting more young people active, tackling inequalities in participation and improving volunteer pathways are all benefits realised of the work undertaken and we look forward to future developments”
Developing new activity for colleges has a knock on effect for future employment and employers. Many of the learners involved will now be fitter in their future workplace, have increased confidence and improved wellbeing as a whole. Those involved in leading and volunteering are already gaining employment with local sports clubs, councils and leisure facilities, increasing their skills while helping local communities become more active also. Both can help reduce future burden on the health service through inactivity related illness, while supporting communities develop new and innovative sports projects.
A key feature of all activity has been the inclusive nature of sessions. Over 50% of participants are female learners, all projects are inclusive with sessions for learners with disabilities, and all sessions are free providing access for learners from families with low income or less local opportunities.
Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Elis-Thomas, had an opportunity to see the range of facilities available to young people during a visit to Coleg Sir Gar this week, where 41% of students take part in sport three or more times per week. Following his visit, he said “Helping Wales to become a healthy and more active nation is a Welsh Government priority and I am very grateful to ColegauCymru for all the work they and the FE Colleges in Wales are doing to develop a range of new and exciting opportunities to encourage young people to take up a sport or form of physical activity which can fit around their studies. The projects taking place at Coleg Sir Gar are an excellent example of what can be achieved while working in partnership with the community, sport clubs and other partners.”