A REPORT this week has highlighted an alarming decline with Welsh Schools’ provision of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). In a hasty response, Education Minister, Huw Lewis, announced new plans to improve and promote MFL across Wales’ schools.
The report, published by the British Council and CFBT Education Trust, which was carried out across two thirds of Welsh secondary schools, showed a drop of over 4,000 pupils since 2002 taking either a German or French GCSE.
At the same time as Wales reached near crisis levels for MFL uptake, England and Scotland, unlike the Welsh government, put in policies to increase provision. As a consequence, uptake in French increased in England by some 19% between 2012 and 2013.
As England has introduced a compulsory MFL curriculum at primary level, Wales has not. Even where MFL is compulsory, in the first 3 years of secondary school, the report showed that only a minimal or fragmented experience of language learning was being received by pupils.
Earlier this year a Welsh Government spokesperson was quoted as saying: “Learning a modern foreign language is not compulsory in primary schools in Wales”, but continued by opining that, “it should be noted that all children in primary schools in Wales are taught Welsh”.
Reacting to criticism and alarming statistics, Huw Lewis has launched, this week, ‘Global Futures’, a plan, he said, to improve and promote MFL in Wales that will come into effect from September and will be supported by up to £480,000 of Welsh Government funding in the first academic year.
The minister went on to say that under the plan, one secondary school in each of Wales’ four regional consortia will be appointed as a Centre of Excellence for MFL. Teachers at the appointed Centre for Excellence will receive targeted Continuing Professional Development and benefit from new partnership arrangements with language institutes and Welsh universities to help them develop high level language teaching skills.
They will then be tasked with working in partnership with other secondary schools and primary schools in their area to drive up teaching standards for MFL across the region. An MFL steering group, he said, that was made up of experts from schools, universities, Estyn, British Council, language institutes and education consortia will also be established to ensure the plan is fully implemented.
Mr Lewis said: “Linguistic skills are rapidly becoming one of the most important skills a young person can acquire to compete for jobs in the global economy. They are important to Welsh businesses too as increasing amounts of our trade and commerce is done with new partners overseas.
“I want to ensure that more and more of our young people actively choose to study a Modern Foreign Language as part of their school education, and develop the skills they need to thrive in a modern global economy. We need a radical and new approach.”
Owen Hathway, NUT Wales Policy Officer, said: “As with any ‘outreach’ initiative it is wholly vital that this is seen as working with schools rather than simply monitoring and challenging them. Regional consortia bodies have failed to find the correct balance in the past.”
However, Dr Philip Dixon, Director of ATL Cymru, said: “This announcement is far too late and far too little to stem the catastrophic decline in the teaching of modern foreign languages. That decline has been apparent for over a decade. We must wonder if the Welsh Government is serious about this matter at all. Changes to the way schools’ performance is measured, to be introduced in the next year or so, will simply make things worse. We fear it is a case of ‘adios’ to foreign languages.”
Also commenting on the news that the Welsh Labour Government is to overhaul its strategy on MFL was Angela Burns AM, Shadow Minister for Education, who said: “Labour took measures which actively discouraged modern foreign language study, slashed funding for the National Centre for Languages and failed to capitalise on a successful pilot of foreign language study in primary schools.
“The ability to communicate in multiple languages is an increasingly valuable skill in the international jobs market, but unfortunately if young people lack the skills employers seek, Wales will fall further behind in the global race.
“Language learning is crucial to the future of the Welsh economy and can help ensure that Wales doesn’t become isolated with school leavers and graduates only able to communicate in their mother tongue.”
Asked if it might be the case that Welsh language teaching had replaced MFL provision, a Pembrokeshire County Council Spokesperson said: “MFL and Welsh are not treated similarly due to the statutory requirement to teach Welsh second language in primary schools and up to the age of 16 in secondary schools. MFL teaching is only required to be taught from Years 7-9 (ages 11-14). The statutory nature of Welsh second language is a curriculum priority set by the Welsh Government.”
U-turn on compulsory lifesaving lessons in Welsh secondary education
SCHOOLS in Wales will now teach first aid and lifesaving skills as part of the new curriculum.
Wales will join England and Scotland by introducing first aid and lifesaving kills to their national secondary education curriculum.
Kirsty Williams, Education Minister had previously rejected the calls for emergency resuscitation skills to be compulsory in school.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was introduced in the secondary school curriculum in England in September 2020.
Local authorities in Scotland have also committed to introduce lifesaving skills to their secondary education curriculum.
The British Heart Foundation had backed the campaign for CPR to be taught in schools.
In a long fought battle, Suzy Davies, a Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, secured the commitment from the Welsh Education Minister in the course of debating amendments to the new Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, which will make sweeping changes to the way Welsh children are educated.
The new curriculum for Wales is planned to come into force from 2022.
Children, parents, families and medics have long argued that regular teaching of CPR in particular will raise our children to have the skills and confidence to step in and save the life of someone in cardiac arrest if they encounter them outside a hospital setting.
The commitment was included in the Welsh Conservative manifesto for the Assembly election in 2016, and Suzy Davies, the Shadow Education Minister, said:
“After 10 years campaigning for this, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen.
“From securing cross-party support for this in my early days as an Assembly Member, through several debates and pitches to different Ministers, on to my own proposed legislation which found favour among Senedd Members, it was difficult to understand why Welsh Government was so resistant.
“In this country, our chances of surviving a cardiac arrest outside hospital are as poor as 10%. In countries around the world where teaching CPR and defibrillator use is compulsory, those odds improve dramatically. These skills are quick and easy to learn and easy to remember.
“ Alun Davies MS – himself a cardiac arrest survivor – has rightly argued that we should be able to learn these skills at any time in our lives and that defibrillators should be a commonplace feature of our public landscape. I couldn’t agree more – but how simple it is to ingrain these skills from an early age and raise generation after generation of lifesavers.”
Under the new curriculum, teachers must follow statutory guidance made by Ministers to support various aspects of the new way of teaching. After changes guaranteed by the Education Minister, this guidance will now instruct teachers that they should teach lifesaving skills and first aid: It is no longer optional.
The mandatory teaching of life saving skills and first aid (not just CPR) has been supported by the medical profession, including paramedics and fire service co-responders, as well as charities like St. John’s Cymru, British Heart Foundation, Calon Defibrillators, Cariad and the Red Cross.
It is taught through many youth groups, including Torfaen Sea Cadets who trained Aneurin Metcalfe, the young man who saved someone’s life only this week.
Styling their way to the top
FOUR hairdressing learners: Holly Mathias, Jenna Kilgallon, Helaina Thomas and Leah Rees, recently earned themselves a place in the next stage of the Concept Hair Magazine Learner of the Year Competition.
The candidates were invited into the College to show their fully presented entries as evidence and then submitted them remotely to the Concept Hair Magazine judges in December.
The categories for the competition were: Festival Hair, Red Carpet, Old School Barbershop, Celebration of Colour and Safari.
The unique styles allowed the learners to show off their creative hair styling skills from plaits to updos, to bold colour creations.
Charlotte Jones, Hairdressing lecturer was over the moon with the learners’ success; “We were all so impressed with the creativity, dedication and enthusiasm of all the students who took part in the competition. Also, the students who supported the entries during the day and the models who gave up their time to be involved. They should all be very proud of what they have achieved. The results were amazing!”
The students worked to COVID regulations ensuring all the correct PPE and procedures were followed.
Finalist, Holly Mathias entered three categories which included; Styling Level 2 – Festival Theme, Hair Up Level 2 – Red Carpet and Avant Garde – Safari.
Holly shared her experience; “Taking part in the Concept Hair competition, has really boosted my confidence and proved that hard work really does pay off. The support from the staff at Pembrokeshire College is outstanding. I would recommend everyone to take part in this competition as not only is it an amazing experience, but it really allows you to think outside the box and be as creative as you can! I would 100% take part in this competition again.”
Holly plans to go into full-time employment when she completes her course and hopes to one day work on cruise ships or even own her own salon.
The next stage involves the candidates submitting photographic entries on the 12th March where six will be shortlisted for the national finals which is set to take place virtually in April.
Senedd approves Wales’ National Curriculum
MEMBERS of the Senedd voted to pass the National Curriculum Bill’s final text, meaning the Curriculum for Wales will now be introduced in 2022.
Throughout the debate on its final stage, which took place on Tuesday (March 9), opposition members praised Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams. Members from all sides saluted her patience and diligence in guiding a significant piece of legislation onto the statute book.
Even members who disagreed with the Bill’s content and opposed its passage highlighted the Minister’s personal contribution and commitment to creating Wales’ first national Curriculum.
A NATIONAL MISSION
The Bill was the subject of intensive scrutiny and broad consultation.
Speaking in the Senedd, Mrs Williams said the Bill’s passage was ’a national mission’.
“It would have been simpler to cook up plans in Cathays Park in a back office and issue a ‘take it or leave it’ offer,” the Education Minister said.
She continued: “But our combined efforts with teachers, academics, parents, and many organisations here and abroad is worth so much more because of that ‘national mission’ spirit.”
Kirsty Williams paid a personal tribute to Labour MS Lynn Neagle, Chair of the Children’s and Young Persons’ Committee.
Under Lynn Neagle’s leadership, the Committee rigorously scrutinised the Bill and made a series of recommendations in its text.
Of the Labour backbencher, Kirsty Williams said: “I conclude by thanking Lynne Neagle for her tough, astute, tenacious, sometimes bloody-mindedness in her approach to this legislation. I mean that as a compliment, Lynne.
“As I said earlier, the results of the committee’s work have made this a better Bill.”
She had similarly warm words for her Conservative opposite number, Suzy Davies.
Mrs Williams acknowledged: “She has worked incredibly hard on this Bill, and I know that she’s been fully committed to the scrutiny process. As I said in opening my comments today, I think we have a better Bill due to the CYPE committee’s efforts. I have gone to great lengths to try and respond positively to the cross-party report that the Committee published to try and meet those aspirations.”
Like Mrs Williams, Suzy Davies steps down as an MS in May. She was unable to attend the debate.
Despite the Minister’s warm words, the new Curriculum’s journey to the statute book has not been without controversy.
Activists railed against the Curriculum’s Religion Values and Ethics element and its focus on Welsh language teaching’s importance to all of Wales’ pupils. The inclusion of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in the Curriculum provoked vituperative responses from a small group of parents. They opposed children receiving what they’ve claimed will be inappropriately explicit sexual education.
Senior Policy Researcher for NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes says: “The strength of support for mandatory relationships and sexuality education to be included in the new Curriculum for Wales by leading child protection experts and charities highlights what a game-changer this is.
“The changes are long overdue, but in passing this Bill Senedd members are helping to protect children and young people from abuse – making sure every child and young person in Wales can access high quality RSE that is relevant, sensitive and appropriate to their own capacities and needs.
“It will help all learners understand their rights to safe, healthy and fulfilling relationships throughout their lives, and schools must now be supported and fully resourced to deliver inclusive and high quality RSE from September 2022.”
Regarding Welsh Language teaching and RSE, those with genuine concerns had those worries preyed upon to grandstanding political effect by fringe political movements, such as Ukip and Abolish the Assembly (sic.)
Speaking for the latter group, Gareth Bennett said: “The downgrading of English teaching in the interest of immersion in Welsh is a sinister development. It will surely disadvantage Welsh schoolchildren who are not from a background of speaking Welsh at home.”
Dr Felix Aubel, a noted controversialist, said: “UKIP would divert millions of pounds by abolishing the legal requirement to forcibly impose the Welsh language on people.”
Like Abolish, UKIP will campaign on a platform of abolishing Welsh parliamentary democracy.
Those organisations’ concerns on Welsh language education ignore the fact Welsh is the national language of Wales. Every credible educational study underlines how children benefit from bilingual education.
HISTORY TEACHING CONCERNS PLAID
On Tuesday, further and concerted criticism of the new Curriculum came from Plaid Cymru.
Perturbed by the absence of Welsh history’s teaching, Plaid’s Sian Gwenllian announced the party would vote against the Bill in its final stage.
Plaid’s Shadow Education Minister said that, although her party supported the Bill’s direction of travel: “Plaid Cymru argued for the inclusion of two other mandatory elements that could also contribute towards creating that social, far-reaching transformation that we want to see, namely the history of Wales in all of its diversity, including black and people of colour history, and environmental education, including climate change.
“There is no assurance [these subjects] will be given due attention, and for me, that is a fundamental flaw within the Bill. Guidance simply isn’t enough. It’s easy to scrap guidance or change it, unlike issues that have a statutory basis and are included on the face of the Bill.
“We will, therefore, vote against the legislation today.”
In response, Kirsty Williams said: “For the absolute avoidance of any doubt, Welsh histories and the story of Wales will be a compulsory part of this Curriculum. It is included in the statutory guidance that has already been issued and will have a statutory underpinning.
“There will be no way a school cannot teach the history of Wales. Indeed, every single area of learning and experience must have a golden thread of a celebration of Welsh identity in all its diversity in every area.”
The Minister observed acidly: “I accept it’s election time, and there are petitions and e-mails to be sent, but it’s regrettable, as I said, on this historic day, with the opportunity for the first time in our nation’s history to have our own curriculum, that The Party of Wales will choose to vote against.”
TIME TO PREPARE
The Bill passed by 32 votes to 18 with one abstention. Four Conservative Senedd Members voted with the Government, including Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies.
Following Royal Assent, which is anticipated in April, the Bill will become the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021.
Last year, the Minister published an updated action plan setting out the next steps in Wales’ reform journey, ahead of the new Curriculum’s introduction.
Alongside the updated ‘Our National Mission’ action plan, the Welsh Government also published a document setting out shared expectations of what curriculum realisation means for practitioners and schools from 2022. Curriculum for Wales.
The journey to 2022 has been created to help schools prepare for designing and implementing their Curriculum. In January, the Welsh Government published the Curriculum Implementation Plan, which will steer its work with partners to deliver the Curriculum for Wales.
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