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Education

Government to act on early exam entry

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Adam Price: Welcomed Cabinet Secretary’s comments

SCHOOLS across Wales have been accused of ‘gaming’ the examination and qualification system at GCSE level and failing pupils in the process.

The issue has arisen following a report from Qualifications Wales, the regulator of non-degree qualifications and the qualification system in Wales, which has alerted the Welsh Government to the high risk that overall GCSE results will decline in Wales due to the widespread practice of entering children a year early into GCSE examinations in order to ‘bank’ results, with able pupils denied the chance to improve their grade at a later examination.

Almost two thirds of Year 10 pupils were entered for the English GCSE in the last exam cycle.

The same practice in England led to the UK Government intervening and making adjustments to school league tables, so that only the first attempt at examinations counted towards schools’ performance.

And Kirsty Williams, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government, has said she may now intervene to prevent or curtail Welsh schools from putting Welsh pupils forward to sit GCSEs a year early.

In an interview on BBC Wales’ Sunday Politics, Kirsty Williams said: “What I’m concerned about is that children that, perhaps had the potential to get an A* and A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C because they do it early and they’re not re-entered again.

“I want children to fulfil their potential in school. I want early entry to be only for the children who will benefit from it.

“When I see such large numbers as are being reported as being entered, that’s something I am concerned about.”

Qualifications Wales said the problem is particularly acute this year due to a more rigorous curriculum and examination programme.

The body is scheduled to complete a review and report to the Welsh Government in September this year on the issue.

Welsh Government advice is that decisions about early entry into GCSE’s must be made ‘in the interests of the individual child’. In May, however, the Welsh Government’s Director of Education, Steven Davies, claimed in evidence to an Assembly Committee that schools have conducted early entry ‘to test the system’.

Mr Davies continued: ‘There are also those out there who are gaming.’

Mrs Williams’ stance on the subject has been welcomed by Adam Price AM.

Adam Price has been making representations regarding early exam entry to the Welsh Government since the start of the year having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring.

The Plaid Cymru AM also met with the Education Secretary in May to express concern that pupils may not be reaching their full potential.

Mr Price says he welcomes the willingness of the Education Secretary to intervene but said options for early entry should not be closed off to everyone.

Adam Price said: “I first made representations to the Education Secretary back in January having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring. His concern was that pupils were being entered for early examination but did not have time to actually finish the course before sitting the exams.

“Whilst it seems attractive for pupils to ‘bank’ a good grade early and take some pressure off a year later, many pupils will miss out on a better grade if they were to be given the opportunity to complete the course over the longer and traditional two year timescale.

“Early entry for exams is not a new phenomenon – this has always been a feature of GCSEs at the discretion of teachers and it should not be closed off entirely. But there does seem to be widespread change this year with almost two-thirds of all pupils in Wales being entered a year early.

“I welcome the Minister’s comments that she is prepared to intervene depending on the findings of her review, but the pressure on schools and teachers must be considered as part of this investigation.

“We all want what is best for our school pupils. The education system should support pupils who need the full two years of study, and allow teachers to make decisions on how pupils can best reach their individual potential.”

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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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