Coleg y Cymoedd learner is a winner at Cheltenham Races

After leaving school with just a handful of qualifications, a Rhondda lecturer who went on to train in catering and hospitality has been recognised for her inspirational teaching and infectious enthusiasm.

54 year-old Gail Pritchard from Gelli, who works at the Rhondda campus of Coleg y Cymoedd, was named FE/HE Lecturer of the Year at Inspire! Adult Learning Awards 2014, hosted by NIACE Cymru in Llandudno.

Gail’s role at the college has come full circle over the last twenty years.

She first completed a catering and hospitality course there back in 1976 when it was Rhondda College. At the end of the course, she was named Student of the Year and went on to work in a variety of catering and hospitality jobs, before coming back to Coleg y Cymoedd fourteen years later as a catering technician and becoming a tutor herself in 2002.

Gail now teaches learners with a wide range of learning difficulties and behavioural and social problems. Despite many of them having a poor track record in terms of engagement, since starting Gail’s courses, the learners have consistently achieved rates approaching 100% in attendance, retention, punctuality and achievement.

She has structured the catering and hospitality course so that learners run the college restaurant three days a week, where they are encouraged to put on theme menus and special events such as afternoon teas and fundraising activities.

Jill James from Coleg y Cymoedd, who nominated Gail for the award, said: “Gail works with infectious enthusiasm and high standards that motivate both learners and colleagues. She is a fantastic role model, both to learners and new members of staff and has made a tremendous difference to so many young learners’ lives over the years.”

As Gail explains, “I didn’t enjoy school and left with hardly any qualifications. I love the fact that I am now able to give the young people at Coleg y Cymoedd a much better experience of learning than I ever had. Seeing them grow in confidence and develop valuable life skills make it the most rewarding job in the world.”

The Inspire! Adult Learning Awards are hosted by NIACE Cymru each year ahead of Adult Learners Week to celebrate the achievements of a small number of outstanding learners in Wales who have shown exceptional passion, commitment and drive for learning, often in the face of difficult circumstances. Adult Learners Week (14-22 June) is organised by NIACE Cymru with the support of the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates said:

“Each of these learners has a truly inspiring story. In spite of all the obstacles they faced, they make a conscious decision to change the course of their lives by learning a new skill. They are now reaping the benefits of that decision and I would like to congratulate them on the relentless hard work and dedication they have shown in pursuing their chosen career.

“Equally impressive are the tutors and trainers. They have given exceptional support and commitment to their learners and really have gone that extra mile in helping them achieve their full potential.”

Cerys Furlong, Director of NIACE Cymru, said:

“All of our Inspire! winners have one thing in common – they recognise the real value of learning. Gail is an absolute inspiration to fellow teachers, tutors and learners and thoroughly deserves this award. Congratulations Gail, and all her fellow award winners who remind us how adult learning can transform individuals’ lives.”

Skills Competition Success for Rhondda Cynon Taf Care Student

Coleg y Cymoedd has received the news that it has been awarded the Gold Level” in the Wales Travel Plan Awards; for its work in developing a strategy that promotes sustainable travel practises at the College.

The College strategy and plan is developed and monitored by a group of college staff, working with key partners including Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Councils, South Wales Police and SEWTA.

As a result of this work the organisation is making steady progress in reducing single user car journeys and encouraging use of travel that reduces the carbon footprint; some initiatives include encouraging cycling and the use of public transport. Annual surveys of staff and learners have helped steer the plan’s priorities and even contributed to changes in public road layout in the Nantgarw area.

The Travel Plan also contributes to the Platinum Corporate Health standard which the college achieved for its efforts in encouraging an active lifestyle such as walking and cycling, which are key targets of the College strategy. These habits along with the intention to promote car sharing schemes will also help the environment around the campuses by reducing car parking.

Furthermore, in this coming year the College is rolling out greater use of video link meetings to reduce staff travel between campuses, this has a cost saving advantage both to the college and its staff and students.

To qualify for the Gold Award, Coleg y Cymoedd were assessed and met the following criteria; held a Silver Award for at least a year, completed a full staff survey with a 50% response rate, showed evidence of monitoring and feedback on progress against objectives set, continued to action achievements against current targets, further development of travel initiatives, and agree future targets, produced a revised action plan with dates for future survey work and monitoring and provided evidence that the updated plan has been communicated to staff.

Head of Learner Services David Brookes said” The College is delighted to have achieved the Gold Travel Award and will continue to work closely with the staff, learners and key partners. Once we’ve held the Gold Award for one year, we will be in a position to apply for the Platinum Award, which is the highest level an organisation can hold. The staff and learners have been instrumental in achieving this award; to achieve success everyone has to ‘buy in’ to the schemes. We are always keen to hear from staff and learners of any ideas they may have in relation to the Travel Plan”.

Coleg y Cymoedd welcomes Holocaust survivor while learners visit Auschwitz

Learners studying at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Aberdare Campus undertook some community participation work in conjunction with Rhondda Cynon Taf’s Streetcare Team. The learners studying on the Level 1 and Level 2 Computing courses completed this task earlier this month as part of their Welsh Baccalaureate qualification.

The two day activity saw the learners involved in clearance work along a section of the Tram Road within their community, between Trecynon and Penywaun, Aberdare. Armed with litters picks and refuse sacks the group of learners worked alongside officers as they cut back the overgrowth; clearing the area of fly-tipping and litter as they went.

Course tutors Michaela Jones and Sharon Corns were extremely proud of the commitment and hard work shown by the learners in undertaking this task. They stated “The learners were an absolute credit to the college. They worked hard over the two days clearing overgrown shrubs, items that had been discarded along the route and lots of litter. They were really pleased with the difference they had made, as this is a beautiful area of countryside, well used by walkers and cyclists as there’s a lot of history linked to this community”.

Tim Jones, Enforcement Officer with RCT’s Streetcare Team commented “I would like to thank the learners from the college; I was really impressed with their work and enthusiasm. They helped carry out an extremely challenging task, working well as a team alongside the officers from Streetcare and collected over 3 tonnes of waste over the 2 days. I think they enjoyed the task and had job satisfaction from seeing the difference their work had made to the area – well done, a fantastic effort!”

Contributions to Colegaucymru’s National Teaching and Learning Conference

A Level student Caitlin Lavagna from Porth; has been recognised for her musical talents. The 17- year old student is currently studying A Level Drama, Music, Art and Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus.

Caitlin is a remarkable singer and impressed the judges during her audition with two excellent performances of O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini and With You from the musical Ghost, to win the prestigious John Tree Award.

The annual John Tree Music competition organised by Cor Meibion Pontypridd was founded in 1991 by industrialist and benefactor John Tree MBE, the Deputy Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan. The Award celebrates and rewards music making in the Pontypridd area.

Caitlin said “I was delighted to win the Award, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember; I also enjoy acting, dancing and drumming. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to perform on several famous stages alongside recognised individuals and groups. An ambition of mine is to study either a Percussion or Drama degree at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and pursue a career in the arts”.

Caitlin is also a talented pianist, drummer and dancer and has performed with orchestras, Folk bands, Dance and Theatre groups. One of her biggest dancing achievements to date includes performing at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, as part of the Mzanzi Cymru’s production of ‘Torchbearers’; a story of Apartheid which involved young professional dancers and Zip Zap Circus Crew from South Africa.

College team are sporting medals from UK final

Coleg y Cymoedd learner Ryan Viney was awarded Waiter of the Week, out of thousands of staff at this year’s prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup races.

Seventeen year old Ryan from Merthyr Tydfil joined a group of 48 learners from the Nantgarw campus, on the five day work experience at the races. The learners are studying on a range of courses from Levels 1, 2 and 3 Professional Cookery and Professional Food and Beverage Service.

On arrival the learners are allocated positions in the bars, restaurants, tented village and hospitality boxes and spend the week serving the thousands of guests. The high pressure environment offers an insight into the industry and certainly improves the learners’ skills and confidence.

Ryan was delighted to be awarded Waiter of the Week out of all the staff involved. He stated “I was really shocked when I heard that I had been selected as Waiter ofthe Week as there were thousands involved. It was a really busy week and we worked long hours, but that is the nature of the career I hope to pursue. I know all the learners would like to thank our tutors Sharon Vallance, Marilyn Emmanuel & John Williams for accompanying us at the event – the experience has been invaluable”.

The managers and supervisors at the event, and the Jockey Club Catering Company, which employed the learners, were impressed with the dedication and hard work shown by all the learners throughout the week and commended them on their commitment and attitude.

Principal Judith Evans said “I must congratulate all the students who took part in this event for their mature attitude and excellent behaviour. Opportunities such as this are invaluable in terms of work experience and we are committed to enabling our learners to become work-ready; we have been attending the Cheltenham Races for the past 20 years. A special note of congratulations must go to Ryan who certainly raised the profile of Coleg y Cymoedd, all the learners proved outstanding ambassadors for the college”.

UK honour for Welsh college engineers

A 19 year-old from Ystrad, Rhondda has won the Skills Competition Wales final in Care, as part of a Welsh Government-backed initiative to boost skills levels across Wales.

Coleg y Cymoedd student Natasha Hallett scooped first place at her very first skills competition and competed against students from colleges across Wales, including Coleg Cambria, Group Llandrillo Menai and Gower College Swansea.

All finalists had to complete a series of care challenges that involved two role play tasks; looking after a young man with Autism and an elderly lady with Dementia plus an online knowledge quiz.

The competitors had to demonstrate their caring skills, in both scenarios, with consideration for the dignity and respect of the service users. They were marked on their skills, safe working practice and underpinning knowledge.

Natasha, who is currently working towards her Level 2 Diploma in Health and Social Care with Welsh Baccalaureate has plans to proceed with her Level 3 at Coleg y Cymoedd Rhondda Campus. After the competition Natasha said that she was very proud of her achievement, “I was selected by my lecturer to enter this competition but never expected to win. It was really nerve wracking but my experience working at Pentre Care Home came in handy and I was able to show the judges what I can do.

“The tasks were quite challenging but I had a great day and received some encouraging feedback, I’m looking forward to doing more skills competitions in the future.”

Skills Competition Wales is designed to promote the importance of developing a highly-skilled workforce and aims to boost high level skills in Wales. Supported by the European Social Fund, the Welsh Government is running a total of 32 Skills Competitions in 2014 in a range of sectors, from carpentry and hairdressing to automotive and patisserie.

Natasha will now go forward to represent Coleg y Cymoedd in the WorldSkills UK Care Competition with the aim of representing Team Wales at this year’s Skills Show, and may be eligible to compete for a place in the team that will represent the UK at WorldSkills 2015. The international WorldSkills competition takes place every two years in cities around the globe and is the largest international skills competition.

As Barry Liles, Principal at Coleg Sir Gâr and WorldSkills Champion for Wales, explains, the competitions have a range of benefits, not only for the learners themselves, but also for colleges and employers who get involved.

“WorldSkills UK Competitions inspire young people and adults to be ambitious in their pursuit of skills to the highest level and give learners the chance to compete against the best in their chosen field from across the whole of Wales.

“The college and training providers that enter students into the competitions also reap the rewards as they are able to benchmark their performance against other organisations and develop best practice, while the employers who sign up can demonstrate world class skills among their staff.”

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates AM, congratulated Natasha on his success. “Through Skills Competition Wales, we aim to find the nation’s most skilled trainees across many different occupations and sectors.

Dozens of colleges, Sector Skills Councils and work-based learning providers throughout Wales are already involved in the project but we are keen to encourage more Welsh businesses to take part in and promote this type of skills competition. For employers, the competitions not only help drive up the quality of apprenticeships and vocational education, but also motivate employees to achieve success.

We have a truly diverse set of skills in Wales and these are all to be celebrated. It takes hard work, determination and a high level of skill to compete against Wales’ most talented apprentices and learners. We wish Natasha and all the other finalists and winners the very best of luck, not only in the next round of the competitions, but also in the careers they choose to go on and follow.”

Photographer: Keith Freeburn

College learners inspire tutor to win a prize in national competition promoting Wales, Welsh and bilingualism

Students from Coleg y Cymoedd were given the opportunity to hear the testimony of Holocaust survivor, Eva Clarke; as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. Learners were also selected to participate in an educational visit to Auschwitz.

Following her talks Eva took part in question and answer sessions to enable students to better understand the nature of the Holocaust and to explore its lessons in more depth. The visit was part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s extensive all year round Outreach Programme, which is available to schools across the UK.

Business tutor Kim Purnell said: “It was a privilege for us to welcome Eva Clarke to our college and her testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Eva’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust added, “The Holocaust Educational Trust educates and engages students from across the UK, from all communities about the Holocaust and there can be no better way than through the first-hand testimony of a survivor. Eva’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances and by hearing her testimony, students will have the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead.

At the Trust, we impart the history of the Holocaust to young people, to ensure that we honour the memory of those whose lives were lost and take forward the lessons taught by those who survived.”

As part of the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project, four students were also chosen to visit Auschwitz for the day. Learners Jodie Baker and Sandra Kawowska studying Level 3 Public Services at the Ystrad Mynach campus plus Georgia Gale and Elisha Kelly, studying Business at the Nantgarw campus were selected to take part in the visit. The four students joined a group of students from schools and colleges across the country for a tour of the camp.

The group visited several barracks, crematoria and gas chambers and also took part in a reflection ceremony, at the destroyed Crematoria 11 where they lit memorial candles and placed them around the structure’s remains.

Elisha said “I’d read about the horrors of Auschwitz and seen documentaries on the T.V., but to see it was something else. It was so emotional and puts life into perspective; it has left a lasting impression.”

Georgia added “I found it difficult to see the belongings of the people, especially the children. Being there you could feel what they went through”.

Prior to their visit to Auschwitz the students attended preparation sessions and on their return have participated in debriefing sessions; they are now working on a project to share their experiences with other students.

Learners celebrate success at the Welsh Culinary Skills Championships

Representatives from Coleg y Cymoedd joined managers, mentors and lecturers from other colleges at Colegaucymru’s National Teaching and Learning Conference earlier this month. The event, supported by the Welsh Government was held at Theatr Hafren, Newtown to share the results of their research; having adopted an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning. The sector has received strong support from the Welsh Government’s Quality and Effectiveness Policy Branch. It was Welsh Government’s Quality Improvement Fund (QIF) that enabled colleges to undertake supported experiments.

The research, undertaken as supported experiments in the classroom, focused on challenges that face the whole of the education sector and included Peer assessment, self-assessment and different methods of feedback, active learning approaches and ensuring that each learner is stretched and challenged to reach their potential, developing literacy, numeracy and higher order thinking skills, mobile technologies and learning in a ‘flipped classroom’.

Coordinator of the ColegauCymru Teaching and Learning Network and organiser of the conference, Julie Lewis, said: “A key strength of these initiatives is that systems and practices are improving across colleges as a whole, with senior managers, heads of departments, mentors and tutors all working to the same aims.

Colleges are now sharing the lessons they have learned through new sets of resources that include:

Toolkits for numeracy and assessment and a literacy marking scheme, Case study booklets, videos of classroom practice and an online platform for resources and Conference and workshops to disseminate practice.

Vice Principal of Teaching and Learning John Phelps said: “One of Coleg y Cymoedd’s vision statements is for us to be regarded as a provider of excellent teaching, training and learning. With this key focus in mind we place a high priority on giving our learners an excellent learner experience through a range of teaching, learning and assessment approaches that are firmly embedded into their learning activities using sound evidence based teaching techniques.

As part of developing our approaches we have worked directly in partnership with three other FE colleges across SE Wales as well as the rest of the FE colleges in Wales. We will continue to work in partnership to continually improve the teaching, learning and assessment approaches to ensure that the experience for Coleg y Cymoedd’s learners is the very best it can be. The sharing of practice across, and with, the wider professional learning communities can only enrich the experiences for our learners.”

Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification encourages team work

Learners from Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus took gold and bronze in a variety of sports at the British College Championships at Bath University.

The teams competed in the UK finals, representing Wales in sports competitions including mixed Tennis, Trampolining and Table Tennis. Learners put their months of practice to the test in the weekend long competition against college teams from across England, Ireland and Scotland.

First year learner Dan Wood who is studying BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Sport at Coleg y Cymoedd showed his poise and control to become the clear overall individual winner and claim the gold medal in the trampoline competition.

The team Trampolining competition showed what a tight knit team Dan and three learners were as they went on to also claim bronze position for team Wales with less team members than their opponents.

Returning bronze medallist Alexandra Evans faced tough competition in the table tennis against specialist academies. Despite an early knockback she showed her ability to bounce back to win her final game and claim her second bronze medal in two years.

Learners Natasha Lewis, Nathan Jenkins, Kim Williams and Mary-Ann Lewis took part in the mixed and female doubles. Although new to the sport both teams battled against much more experienced opposition in a round robin tournament to finish 10th overall in the UK.

Lecturer Mark Davies Said “This is a fantastic achievement; the learners did a fantastic job in the British College Championships. I would like to thank all staff and learners for their hard work and time throughout the weekend”.

Learner Dan Wood said “It was a fantastic achievement to make it to the British College Championships and to represent Wales in a UK wide competition, but to walk away with medals was unbelievable”.

There was sporting success for college staff too, lecturer Gemma Hallett from the Ystrad Mynach campus also found success with the Welsh College Women Rugby 7’s team who again claimed gold for team Wales.

Student authors capture a striking portrait of their community’s spirit

Engineering tutors and lecturers from a South Wales valleys college have received a top accolade in a prestigious awards programme keenly contested by 20,000 nominees from right across the UK.

The engineering team from Coleg Y Cymoedd, were named UK Further Education Team of the Year in the high-profile annual Pearson Teaching Awards and will now go forward to compete for a Gold award against teams from all UK education sectors at the grand final in London in October.

The team’s celebration is one of just 55 taking place in schools and colleges across England, Ireland and Wales on Thank a Teacher Day,16 May 2014, when prestigious Silver Pearson Teaching Awards will be presented to outstanding local heroes of education.

The Pearson Teaching Awards are an annual celebration of exceptional teachers and teaching, founded in 1999 by Lord Puttnam, they recognize the life-changing impact of an inspirational teacher on the lives of the young people they teach.

The College’s 28-strong engineering team was chosen because of its range of exceptional expertise in aeronautical, electrical and mechanical engineering as well as their clear vision, to be the best provider of engineering apprenticeship training in Wales”.

Commenting on his team’s success, Gavin Davies, assistant curriculum director for technology at Coleg y Cymoedd said: “This award is the result of an inspirational collective team effort. It follows an incredibly successful year for our department, which is itself built on our college’s thirty years of working in partnership with businesses to deliver a curriculum that caters to the specific needs of our learners and their employers.”

He added: “The credit must go further than the exceptional 28 members of the engineering team. Speaking on behalf of the department’s lecturers, tutor technicians and employment officer, I would like to thank our senior management team for their continued support and investment in our facilities. Year-on-year, this culture of support ensures we provide training which is second to none. I am proud to be part of a college with a mission to provide excellence in education and training in the South Wales Valleys.”

The Engineering team will now join fellow Silver Award winners at the UK final of the Teaching Awards at London’s Guildhall on 26th October, where 10 of the 55 Silver Award winners will receive a Gold Award. The ceremony will be filmed and broadcast by the BBC.

There are currently 152 full time and 194 part time learners enrolled on engineering programmes at the college, ranging from entry level qualifications, such as a Foundation Learning Tier in Engineering, up to level five qualifications such as a Foundation Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Many of these learners are apprentices and approximately 150 of them are sponsored by their employers.

Coleg y Cymoedd, which has been created from the merger of Coleg Morgannwg and The College Ystrad Mynach, serves more than 25,000 students drawn from Wales’ traditional industrial heartland in the boroughs of Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf and surrounding areas. In addition to vocational training the college also provides the largest choice of A-levels on one site to over 600 learners. The college has 1,000 staff working across five campuses – Aberdare, Nantgarw, Rhondda, Rhymney and Ystrad Mynach.

Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, president of the Teaching Awards said, “I am genuinely proud and honoured to be the president of the Teaching Awards. I owe so much of what I’ve done to my fantastic teachers at school and university and it is exciting to join in celebrating what is probably the most important profession of them all.”

Rod Bristow, President of Core Markets at Pearson, said: “Everyone can remember a teacher who inspired and challenged them so it’s important to say thank you. It is great teaching that makes the biggest difference to learning and that’s why great teachers must be recognised.”


Wellington Street
Rhondda Cynon Taff
CF44 8EN


Heol y Coleg
Parc Nantgarw
CF15 7QY


Rhondda Cynon Taff
CF40 2TQ

Ystrad Mynach

Twyn Road
Ystrad Mynach
CF82 7XR

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