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Action to stop ‘grade banking’

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Pupils must always be put first: Kirsty Williams

EDUCATION SECRETARY Kirsty Williams announced new rules to reduce the number of pupils being entered too early for exams on Monday (Oct 16).

Ms Williams had previously expressed her concern regarding schools abusing the early entry system by entering whole pupil cohorts into Maths and English papers a year early.

An independent review by Qualifications Wales has found:

  • The continued widespread use of early and multiple entry at GCSE poses risks to students and to the system, which are not easily justified
  • The practice encourages a “teaching the test” approach at the cost of wider subject knowledge
  • More than £3.3m was spent by schools on early entry in the last academic year

Qualifications Wales concluded that they are ‘concerned about the extensive and growing use of early and multiple entry’.

In response the Education Secretary has announced that, from summer 2019, only a pupil’s first entry to a GCSE examination will count in their school’s performance measures. The current policy allows schools to count the best grade from multiple sittings.

Kirsty Williams said: “The changes I am announcing today, based on Qualification Wales’ findings, will ensure that the interests of pupils are always put first.

“I am concerned that pupils who had the potential to get an A*, A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C. Too often this is because they take their exam early and are not re-entered again. I want every child to reach their full potential in school. Early entry must only be for the minority of pupils who will benefit.

“GCSEs are designed to be sat after two years of teaching, not one. These changes will ensure our young people access a broad and balanced curriculum, and focus in on what’s best for our children and young people.”

Responding to research published by Qualifications Wales into the growing practice of schools entering pupils for their GCSE exams early, Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru’s shadow spokesperson for Education and Lifelong Learning, said: “I welcome the report as it provides a deeper understanding of the issues facing schools and students sitting GCSEs a year early. The cabinet secretary has already indicated her concerns and it’s important that she now acts on the recommendations being made.

“Retaining the option of early entry for some students is important, but it’s clear that too many are being entered for some subjects and this broad-brush approach can put additional pressures on students and cost valuable learning time in schools.

“At a time of growing financial pressure, it’s also worrying to note that early entry is placing an additional cost of at least £3.3m on our schools. The report also highlights that some schools are looking at sharing these costs with parents which is a further concern.

“Schools are under pressure to enter their students early and the Government must change the performance measures that have created this situation. Pupils should only be put forward for examination when they are ready and not to balance other competing pressures.”

Welcoming the Welsh Government move, Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Student wellbeing should be at the heart of all decisions made by schools, so the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement is to be welcomed.

“This year’s GCSE results were the worst in a decade for Wales and early entry might well have fuelled this problem.

“Taking exams early isn’t for everyone. Most pupils will need to be given the time to develop their knowledge instead of being pressured to sit tests they simply aren’t ready for.”

NEU Cymru has welcomed the Qualifications Wales report into early entry exams which is calling for a change to the accountability model for schools. The National Education Union say that the way schools are held accountable often leads to unintended consequences within the education system. The Union has long argued for a change to the model to ensure that pupil progress is not undermined by the pressure put on schools to hit certain targets. The union will now look to work with the Welsh Government to find constructive changes that will address these concerns and others relating to how schools are judged.

Keith Bowen, Wales Director of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “We will naturally have to review the full findings of the report over time however the primary recommendations, in principle, appear sensible. It is important that while we seek to limit unnecessary early entry we do not underestimate the value of it for some pupils. The individual circumstances of each pupil need to be assessed and the professional judgement of teachers and head teachers should be respected in making the right choices for learners.

“What is encouraging in the report is the recognition that accountability measures are having unintended consequences on how schools operate. This isn’t limited to early entry but clearly it has had an impact in regards to this particular issue. We hope the Welsh Government do acknowledge the concerns of the report and works with the profession to develop a more innovative approach to assessing school performance. This would allow teachers to continue to offer early entry where appropriate, but to take away the accountability pressure that has put high stakes assessment above pupil progress.”

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Education

Young people from across Wales come together to debate climate change at the National Assembly

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Young people from Bryngwyn school in Llanelli gathered at the Senedd in Cardiff to debate climate change in front of Ministers, Assembly Members and representatives from the Future Generations Commissioner’s Office.

“MockCOP” was an event modelled on the UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP), where representatives from countries all over the world meet to negotiate resolutions to tackle climate change. Run jointly by Cardiff based climate change charity Size of Wales and the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), MockCOP was an interactive opportunity for young people aged 14-18 to learn about the UN, the annual climate change talks and develop their understanding of international relations  by standing in the shoes of other nations and role playing those nations in the model conference.

Regional events have been held across Wales since June, which then culminated in this final event held at the Senedd in Cardiff.

As part of the programme, Size of Wales and WCIA were looking to develop and support young climate change champions across Wales.  

 Size of Wales Director Elspeth Jones said:

“MockCOP develops young people’s skills, knowledge and confidence on the topic of climate change and encourages them to think about how climate change is affecting people now as well as future generations. This year we have been able to reach even more young people across Wales and support the new curriculum in developing ethical informed citizens with the kind support of the ScottishPower Foundation. Climate Change is a subject many students feel motivated to act upon, and we want to empower young people to feel that they can be part of the solution.” 

Eluned Morgan, Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language,

opened debate procedures on the 21st November:

“MockCOP is a fantastic platform for young people to engage with the serious issue of climate change and consider their views from a global perspective. Young people need to be allowed to be creative, put in place their own ideas, develop and experiment with them. MockCOP provides this opportunity to young people to become more informed and engaged about the global challenges and gives them a great opportunity to develop debating and negotiating skills.”

The expansion of the programme has been supported by the ScottishPower Foundation.

Melanie Hill, Executive Officer and Trustee at the ScottishPower Foundation, said: 

“It’s fantastic to see so many young people, who have been engaged with the wider Climate Change Champions project throughout Wales this year, come together at the MockCOP conference here in Cardiff.  The ScottishPower Foundation aims to support talented young people who will be at the forefront of the next generation of experts tasked with developing new solutions to the challenge of climate change.

“It is so inspiring to see these young people being empowered to make their voices heard and being encouraged to share their great ideas for the future.”

Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs added:

“Since we declared a climate emergency, earlier this year, young people from across Wales have been at the centre of our national conversation on what urgent action is required to address climate change.

“I was determined young people should be involved in our first ever Wales Climate Conference last month and MockCop will give them another opportunity to have their voices heard at the very highest level. 

“I know from speaking with young people across Wales just how engaged and passionate they are about the future our planet. This event will ensure the momentum generated by the Climate Conference is maintained and will provide young people with valuable experience of debating and negotiating resolutions to tackle climate change and benefit future generations.”

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Education

University staff to strike

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SIXTY UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday, November 25 to Wednesday, December 4, the UCU has announced.

Three of Wales’ universities, Bangor, Cardiff and UWTSD, will be affected by the dispute.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about re-balloting.’

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

The University and Colleges Employers’ Association dismissed the strike ballot results.

It claims, in all seriousness, the low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members is a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution.

Extending that logic to a general election or other poll would create some rather interesting results and would, for example, overturn the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.

UCU has just 55 results from their 147 separate ballots supporting a national dispute over the outcome of the 2019-20 JNCHES pay round. While UCU members in these 55 institutions could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be causing damage to both union members and to students in an unrealistic attempt to force all 147 employers to reopen the concluded 2019-20 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable. 

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Education

Youth Parliament wants life skills education

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IN ITS first major piece of work from the body representing the views of young people in Wales, the Welsh Youth Parliament found huge inconsistencies in how life skills are currently taught, with almost half of those surveyed saying they received lessons once a year or even less.
In their second full session at the Senedd, members of the Welsh Youth Parliament today heard the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams’ response to their report on Life Skills in the Curriculum.
The Welsh Youth Parliament published its report earlier this week in its first major piece of work, having consulted with over 2,500 young people, parents and teachers across Wales. It found huge inconsistencies in how life skills are currently taught with members voicing concerns about leaving school as ‘A* robots with no knowledge of the real world’.
The report said: ‘We currently leave school with a handful of skills but no knowledge on how to speak in public, clean, maintain healthy relationships, buy cars, apply for mortgages, road safety, and many other skills that are needed to succeed in life.
‘We can’t survive adulthood or any part of our life if we leave school as A* robots with no knowledge of the real world. We’re going through this education system, our siblings and our kids will go through this system. We want them to feel equipped and able to function as productive adults, who don’t feel as though their worth is based on their exam results. We are worth more than this.
‘If life skills are correctly implemented into the curriculum, the next generation of students will leave school with not only the correct qualifications to succeed in life but also other abilities and knowledge to make life easier’.
The principal recommendations within the report were:
• A consistent, nationwide Life Skills Specification containing all core life skills mapped out across appropriate key stages and taking in to account all learning needs.
• The core life skills within the specification should be agreed upon by young people and education professionals – their focus shouldn’t be solely on teaching young people how to exist, but how to lead a full and healthy life.
• A life skills coordinator should be appointed within every school. The coordinator would be responsible for mapping the core life skills across the school’s curriculum, ensuring that each pupil’s experience is consistent and in line with the Life Skills Specification.
As she faced Welsh Youth Parliament members in the chamber, the Minister noted their report’s main recommendations including the call for the Welsh Government to be doing more to support teachers and to work with the Welsh Youth Parliament to create resources to support the teaching of life skills.
Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, said: “It is absolutely clear to me from your report that, as a government, we need to be doing more to support our teachers – we need to invest in their development to ensure they have the right tools to deliver life skills education effectively.
“Within government, we are currently in discussion over future budgets. I can assure you today that investment for professional learning for our workforce will be a priority of mine as I recognise the points that you make.”
The Minister also acknowledged members’ clear message in the report about leaving education uninformed about real-world skills. Kirsty Williams argued that educational reforms, including the new curriculum being developed by the Welsh Government, would help address some of those concerns.
Children’s Commissioner, Sally Holland, and the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, Lynne Neagle AM also addressed the Members and gave their response to the report.
During the session, members who form committees looking at Youth Parliament’s other priorities, Emotional and Mental Health in Young People and Littering and Plastic Waste, also gave updates on their work which will continue over the next few months.

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