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Education

Professor highlights achievement gap

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AN EDUCATION advisor has accused Welsh Government education initiatives of failing, as he says a huge gap has developed between poor and well off areas in Wales.

The issue was investigated in a BBC programme this week, with Professor Egan saying: “There is a huge gap between those parts of Wales where deprivation is at a high level and those parts of Wales where that’s not the case. There’s a significant gap and we’re not narrowing that gap at the moment. It’s a particular concern in some areas of Wales – not just the Valleys. We’ve just kept on bolting on one initiative after another and we’re now beginning to see that that’s been a significant problem. We didn’t have an implementation plan that avoided just having another initiative, another policy, something else. And so the clarity, as it were, was lost.”

The programme exposed 5 areas of Wales that consistently scored the lowest results in last year’s english language reading and numeracy tests: Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen. In a 2010 in a National Survey of Adult Skills in Wales it was shown that in excess of 900,000 people have maths skills equivalent to year 5 and 6 primary school pupils. Indeed, in Blaenau Gwent, Wales’ worst performing area, more than 27% of the adult population were shown in a UK Government 2011 census to have no qualifications whatsoever.

Commenting on this was a Welsh Government spokesperson, who said: “We are making important progress in closing the attainment gap between those young people from deprived backgrounds and the rest of the school population. The latest figures show that the performance of Free School Meal pupils has improved at all levels and we have reduced the gap in attainment between these pupils and their counterparts at the Foundation Phase as well as, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. Whilst we very much welcome this progress, we have more work to do. Our National Literacy and Numeracy Framework is designed to help teachers embed literacy and numeracy into all subjects for learners aged 5 to 14; our Schools Challenge Cymru programme is seeing 40 of our most challenged schools being supported by up to £20m of additional funding and the Pupil Deprivation Grant is being raised to £1,150 by 2016. We have also recently published Professor Graham Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ report which proposes a set of radical and exciting proposals for a new curriculum in Wales.”

From the leading teaching union, Owen Hathway, NUT Cymru Policy Officer, said: “We know that there has been historic challenges facing schools in the most deprived communities in Wales, none more so than the funding problems they face. There are serious issues in education attainment there that are increasingly more difficult to tackle at a time of shrinking budgets. It is possibly a case that there has been numerous initiatives, many of which are well meaning and important, but perhaps do not work as part of an overarching vision. That was one criticism of the education system in Wales that came out of the OECD report. Closing the attainment gap between our most deprived areas and others is a complex issue that simply won’t have a magic bullet solution. It is very much the case that this is a community and society issue not simply and education one. However there is no doubt that teachers working in those schools are working above and beyond expectations to try and ensure that all pupils, regardless of their backgrounds, have the best opportunity to fulfil their potentials.”

Also commenting on these statistics was Mid and West AM, and Shadow Minister for Education, Simon Thomas, who stated: “Plaid believes closing the gap between economically disadvantaged children and the better-off should be a priority for the Welsh Government. The gap at GCSE increased between 2013 and 2014 and now stands at 33.8 percentage points. International reports have identified the problems and it is now up to the Welsh Government to deliver on solutions. The Labour party has failed in its attempts to raise educational standards in Wales.”

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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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