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.”
Virtual graduation for Class of 2020
UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.
BAME advisor appointed to education post
PROFESSOR Charlotte Williams OBE has been appointed by the Welsh
Government to lead a new working group to advise on and improve the
teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic
communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.
Professor Williams accepted an invitation from the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to chair the new ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group.
In 2007, Professor Williams was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to ethnic minorities and equal opportunities in Wales.
Professor Williams said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be leading the working group in advancing this step-change towards integrating Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into the everyday learning of every child in Wales. The goal is that the new curriculum will become a shining example of resourcing and enabling broad engagement in learning and teaching with BAME contributions past and present.
“The challenge is to ensure that Black and minority ethnic peoples have a presence across the new Welsh curriculum so that within all of the Areas of Learning and Experience we can hear the sound of their voices, know of their experience, history and contributions, past and present.
“This requires appropriate resourcing because we want all teachers in Wales to be able to rethink their materials and feel confident in the ways of delivering them to reflect this presence. It’s a very exciting prospect. In this way, our curriculum in Wales will ultimately be reflective of our common experience of a vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society.
“We have a rich history in Wales, built on difference and diversity.
“This isn’t about adding an element of Black and minority ethnic history here and there in the new curriculum, but about reimagining learning and teaching across all the elements of the curriculum so that it reflects a Wales that is, and always has been, ethnically diverse, internationalist in its outlook and progressive in its aspirations.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Our diversity is one of our strengths as a nation and our many histories have combined to shape Wales today.
“I’m delighted Professor Williams will be leading this important piece of work and I look forward to seeing the group’s recommendations.
“The working group will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. The group will also review associated professional learning opportunities and resources. The group will be closely aligned to the review of Welsh history by Estyn, the education inspectorate.
“The Welsh word ‘cynefin’ loosely translates as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, but also conveys a sense that all human interactions are strongly influenced and determined by both personal and collective experiences, such as through stories or music.”
The group will present their initial findings in the autumn, and a full report in the spring.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I’m very pleased Professor Williams has agreed to chair the working group.
“I look forward to receiving the group’s recommendations on learning resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities.
“Wales is made up of a multitude of stories. We must understand and analyse our own cynefin, and make those connections across our communities, nation and the world. It isn’t just about history as a subject, it’s language, literature, geography, and so much more.”
The group will oversee the development of new learning resources in advance of the phased introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.
Summer Reading Challenge underway
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT launched the Summer Reading Challenge on Friday, July 17.
The annual Challenge aims to get children between the ages of 4 and 11 to read 6 books over the summer holidays.
This year’s challenge sees a shift to a new bilingual digital platform, supported by library e-lending services, online events and links to existing digital resources. The challenge includes both English and Welsh-medium books.
The theme of the challenge this year is ‘Silly Squad’ and will celebrate funny books, happiness and laughter. Children taking part in the challenge will join the Silly Squad, an adventurous team of animals who “love to have a laugh and get stuck into all sorts of funny books!”
Last year, more than 37,000 children from across Wales took part in the challenge. Over 3,000 children joined libraries as new members, and 33,000 children took part in library events.
Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “As a book lover myself, I know what a great pleasure it is to read over the holidays.
“Each year, thousands of children join libraries because of the Summer Reading Challenge, which is a really good way to develop reading skills, discover new authors and gain a lifelong passion for books.”
The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, said: “I’m really pleased the Welsh Government can support libraries with this year’s challenge. The scheme has become an annual event for many children, who look forward to taking part every year.
“I’d like to thank all of the library staff involved in making the Summer Reading Challenge such a success in Wales.”
Nicola Pitman Chair of the Society of Chief Librarians Wales, said: “Libraries in Wales now have their biggest ever range of eBooks, comics and magazines to download, and this year’s Summer Reading Challenge is set to really help young readers and parents maximise opportunities to engage with fun topics and stories.
“Click & Collect services are also coming into place across the country to help access library books safely during this time. With a new-look website offering lots of great resources, ideas and incentives, we love how easy it is to sign up online and get started. We’re looking forward to everyone getting silly and joining the Summer Reading Challenge squad.”
Karen Napier, Chief Executive Officer of The Reading Agency, said: “We’re thrilled to be developing a bilingual Welsh/ English Summer Reading Challenge digital platform, which will be ready for families to enjoy from mid-July.
“The Reading Agency is committed to ensuring the proven power of reading is accessible for all. I’m looking forward to public libraries and families in Wales taking part in the Challenge and having a seriously silly summer!”
Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, Helgard Krause, said: “Nurturing and encouraging reading is more important at this time than ever before. Research clearly shows that picking up a book is not only good for our mental health and wellbeing – it also helps to strengthen and reinforce children’s language and educational skills. Good luck and enjoyment to everyone involved in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.”
Further information can be found on the Summer Reading Challenge website.
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