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Education

Tests go online

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Approach tailor-made for Wales: Kirsty Williams

NATIONAL reading and numeracy tests in Welsh schools are set to replace paper with innovative online assessments that adapt to a pupil’s abilities, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.

Currently the tests, taken by all pupils in Years 2-9, are carried out on paper. They aim to find out about pupils’ reading and numeracy skills in order to identify what each child needs to focus upon to progress.

The paper tests will be replaced with new personalised assessments to be taken online that have been specifically designed for use in Wales. The new assessments will automatically adjust the level of the questions to match the individual taking the test, providing an appropriate level of challenge for each learner.

The change to online tests will reduce marking time and administration.

Benefits include:

  • Assessments tailored to individual pupils
  • More detailed information on a child’s performance
  • A reduction in feedback times to teachers and learners

Schools will be able to test classes, small groups or individuals according to their facilities and at a time that works for them and their learners

The new tests will be phased in over three years, starting from the 2018/19 academic year.

Kirsty Williams said: “These tests are about raising standards by showing the next steps that children need to take in their learning. The move to online personalised assessments for reading and numeracy will benefit pupils, parents and teachers.

“Pupils will be taking assessments that will adapt to their needs and skills. They will have the benefits of automatic marking and schools will have feedback faster than before, giving them a better picture of how they can help all their learners to move on.

“This approach is tailor made for Wales. It shows how we are investing in our schools to continue our national mission of education reform to drive up standards and make sure every pupil in Wales, whatever their background, has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

The NUT has welcomed the proposals to change the way the literacy and numeracy tests are conducted in Wales.

NUT Cymru says that the new proposals have the potential to improve the way the tests are undertaken but note there still remains compelling evidence that this form of testing is counterproductive to the style of education being developed in Wales.

NUT Wales Secretary, David Evans, said: “NUT Cymru are still of the view that standardised testing is a flawed concept that does not fit into the ethos of the existing education system in Wales, and certainly not alongside the principles of the curriculum as presented by Professor Donaldson. We would have liked to have seen the Cabinet Secretary announce these tests were to be scrapped. However, it is fair to say that the changes that are being put forward could have a positive impact on the way the tests are currently implemented.

“Two of the big concerns we have raised with the Welsh Government in the past are the workload burden these tests have created for teachers and the way they have hindered the confidence of large numbers of pupils. In theory, making the tests an online process and ensuring they are adaptive which allow pupils to work at their individual abilities, can help address some of those issues. Naturally we will have to monitor the implementation of the new approach and I am sure the Cabinet Secretary and her department will take on board the feedback from the profession that follows.”

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Education

Wales gets cosmic ray detector network

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Truly innovative research: Welsh students' major opportunity

A NETWORK of instruments used to detect showers of high-energy particles raining down on Earth, are in the process of being set-up in Wales for the very first time.

The major international project will give schoolchildren the chance to explore some of the most important questions in astrophysics.

The particles, known as cosmic rays, travel from deep space at nearly the speed of light and are thought to originate from the regions around black holes and exploding stars. They’ve been hitting the earth and other planets since the solar system formed.

By detecting cosmic rays, scientists all over the world hope to learn more about some of astronomy’s biggest questions, such as the origin of the Universe, the death of stars, and how galaxies and black holes form. On Earth, observations of cosmic rays have also been used to ‘look inside’ volcanoes, and recently helped discover a large hidden chamber in the Great Pyramid at Giza.

A detector is currently under construction in Swansea University, with plans for another at the proposed Oriel Science exhibition centre in Swansea’s city centre. The network’s first detector has already been installed on the roof of Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy near the city centre.

Professor Chris Allton, from Swansea University’s Oriel Science and Department of Physics, said: “We are excited to link with Cardiff and provide a detector array across south Wales for school students to access. It will really help inspire these students to become the next generation of scientists in Wales.”

The team are now exploring the possibility of installing another detector at a school in Wales, as the network will also be used as an educational resource for schoolchildren across the country.

The £93K ‘QuarkNet Cymru’ project is being funded by the Welsh Government’s National Science Academy and links Wales to two major international projects – the “High School Project on Astrophysics Research with Cosmics” (HiSPARC) in Europe, and US-based “QuarkNet” programme.

HiSPARC and QuarkNet enable secondary schools and academic institutions to join forces and form a network to measure cosmic rays. They offer students the opportunity to participate in real research, with the purpose of finding out more about these mysterious cosmic particles.

When a cosmic ray encounters the Earth’s atmosphere, it creates a cascade of secondary particles called muons which spread out as they travel to the ground. By using detectors sensitive to muons, the schoolchildren will be able to work with the data to find out information about the original cosmic ray, such as its energy and where it came from in the sky.

From January 2018, schools will be able to loan particle physics equipment from Swansea and Cardiff Universities, with the addition of workshops and presentations to engage the schoolchildren in real-life cosmic ray research.

Dr Paul Roche, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for school students from across Wales to get involved with some exciting astrophysics, using data taken from our own instruments that are now part of this international research programme.”

Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport commented: “The QuarkNet Cymru project is an excellent example of how, working with global leaders in the field, Welsh Government investment is helping facilitate truly innovative research into some of the most important questions in astrophysics. More locally, it’s particularly pleasing to see such investment enabling QuarkNet Cymru and its network to deliver engaging Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics activities to pupils across Wales.”

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Education

Aber academics shortlisted for research awards

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(L-R): Professor Colin McInnes, shortlisted for the Special Achievement Award; Dr Elin Royles who has been shortlisted for the Research Impact Award with Dr Huw Lewis and Dr Catrin Wyn Edwards; Dr Catrin Wyn Edwards, shortlisted for Early Career Researcher of the Year; Dr Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, shortlisted for the Research Innovation Award

RESEARCHERS at Aberystwyth University were shortlisted for awards at the 2017 Welsh Social Research Awards​,​ which took place in Cardiff on Thursday evening (Dec 7).

Hosted by the Social Research Association and sponsored by Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance Mark Drakeford AM, the awards recognise and celebrate outstanding research by social science researchers in Wales.

The finalists feature academics from the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University, with nominations in each of the four categories; Special Achievement Award, Early Career Researcher of the Year, Research Impact Award and the Research Innovation Award.

Special Achievement Award: Professor Colin McInnes, UNESCO Professor of HIV/AIDS Education and Health Security in Africa

A leading expert on global health and international relations at Aberystwyth University, Professor McInnes was appointed Vice-Chair of the United Kingdom National Commission (UKNC) for UNESCO in January 2017.

Early Career Researcher of the Year: Dr Catrin Wyn Edwards

Dr Edwards has been researching the linguistic integration of migrants into sub-states, specifically Catalonia and Wales, and Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada.

Research Impact Award: Dr Huw Lewis, Dr Elin Royles and Dr Catrin Wyn Edwards

Working within the WISERD Centre for Welsh Politics and Society at Aberystwyth, Dr Huw Lewis, Dr Elin Royles and Dr Catrin Wyn Edwards have been shortlisted for their work on informing and influencing the policy discussion that fed into the preparation of the Welsh Government’s new national language strategy, Cymraeg 2050: A Million Welsh Speakers, published in July 2017.

Research I​n​novation Award: Dr Berit Bliesemann de Guevara

Working with researchers at Cardiff University, Dr Bliesemann de Guevara has been nominated for the project​ ‘Using a drawing workshop to explore the infertility experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic women in Wales’.

Professor Chris Thomas, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research at Aberystwyth said: “Aberystwyth University possesses a long and distinguished record of world leading social sciences research that is widely recognised for its excellence, originality, significance and rigour. I am delighted to see the work of colleagues recognised in this way.”

According to the latest review of UK research quality, REF 2014, 95% of the research activity submitted by Aberystwyth University was of an internationally recognised standard or higher, with world leading research identified in all 17 of the Units of Assessment submitted.

The Department of International Politics was rated top in Wales, with over 75% of its research considered world leading or internationally excellent (REF2014).

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Education

New standards for FE staff launched

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Eluned Morgan: 'Vocational learning every bit as important as academic education'

NEW professional standards for staff in the further education and work-based learning sectors were launched at the ColegauCymru Conference on Post 16 Education last Thursday (Nov 30).

The standards will set high expectations for all practitioners and be more explicit about the role of high-quality collaborative professional learning to support improvements. They reflect the importance of ongoing professional learning for staff and the role vocational learning plays in creating the skilled, innovative and adaptable workforce Wales needs.

Speaking at the conference, Eluned Morgan, Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, said: “Vocational learning is every bit as important as academic education and if we want the best for our vocational learners their teachers, tutors and assessors have to be supported in their role. These new standards set out a clear, aspirational framework for the sector to work to.

“The critical principle of vocational education is that those working in both FE and WBL tend to operate as dual professionals, as experts both in a ‘vocation’ and as ‘teachers’. This has been made a central strand throughout the standards.

“I am confident that these standards will further engage and motivate practitioners and their employers in their pursuit for excellence and improved outcomes for all.”

Kelly Edwards Head of Work Based Learning Quality at the National Training Federation Wales said: “The Work-based Learning sector was delighted to be involved in the development of the new standards. The standards will support professional learning for WBL practitioners, with a key focus on developing the dual professional. We welcome the standards as an important step to enhance professional recognition for the WBL sector in Wales.”

Iestyn Davies, Chief Executive of ColegauCymru, Wales’ post compulsory education charity, added: “The development of professional standards is a move which is welcomed by ColegauCymru. Further Education provides the practical skills and knowledge that communities rely upon, we fully endorse and will promote these standards as a way of ensuring that the public and the profession alike are clear on what is required to continue to deliver world class skills in the rapidly changing world of work.”

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