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Education

West Wales schools perform above average

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tasker1AS THE EDUCATION consultation period comes to a close, with a vote due on July 16, figures this week show that Pembrokeshire has a huge problem with pupil retention rates.

Though the County Council may feel this is a justification for change, what will be of concern to parents and educators alike is the form that change will take and whether or not it will be change for the better.

What those figures did not show, is that Sir Thomas Picton (STP), whose 6th form is under threat to Pembrokeshire College, had a significantly better retention rate than the Pembrokeshire average suggests, and indeed, when various factors are taken into consideration, appears to have a better retention statistic for its year 12 pupils than the college itself, which has its own in-house career advisory team. In fact, Tasker Milward, had an even better retention rate at a whopping 87%.

Dr Poole, of STP, explained in an email to The Herald, that his school’s official retention figure, listed as 84%, did not take into account pupils who had, in year 12, switched to other courses, taken employment or moved to other centres to study vocational courses, or indeed some pupils who re-started year 12 for a different course, rather than go on to year 13, and he believed his school’s retention figure was nearer a massive 90%, which is well above the Welsh average. The data also does not say what the official retention figures are for Pembrokeshire College. This is a view that it seems is backed up by the Welsh Labour government, with a spokesperson saying: “The Year 12 data needs to be read with caution as it only tells part of the picture. The data provides information on the retention rates in schools, it does not take account of those Year 12 students who go on to attend a FE college or in to Work Based Learning.”

The figures were delivered and explained by Rob Hillier, 14- 19 education system leader, in a children and families overview and scrutiny committee meeting last week. Given a series of graphs, committee members were shown figures for both those young people not in education employment or training (NEET) and the retention figures in full time education at school for 2014. Mr Hillier, explained that Pembrokeshire schools retained only 78% of their Year 12 leavers, a reflection of a significant percentage of early leavers from their AS provision, and a reduction from 80% in 2013. He went on to explain that the 2014 data was significantly below the Welsh average and Pembrokeshire was the 18th ranked Local Authority.

At the meeting there was much discussion as to how the figure could be improved. Cllr Pat Davies stated: “It is an ongoing problem – pupils not receiving correct advice. Pupils that sometimes don’t have the academic qualifications to continue that course (that they start in year 12). I am convinced for some years now that in the 14-19s we are not getting the learning pathways right. School reorganisation is addressing this problem.” Though she was not able to elaborate as to how this re-organisation would address the problem, specifically, or indeed that a significant cut in the Careers Wales service could be having an adverse affect on the schools, given the vote on July 16 on schools reorganisation, for which she did not wish to prejudice herself.

Cllr Ken Rowlands was also keen to question the courses pupils are taking: “Are we providing the right vocational courses? Children want to progress, but have found themselves on the wrong course and dropped out. We must address the needs of the young people of Pembrokeshire, and not look at vested interests.”

The report made a number of suggestions as to how this problem could be resolved:

– Year 11 Information Advice and Guidance

Young people in Year 11 receive assemblies from Job Centre Plus staff that provides them with information about the local labour market. These are timed to coincide with them beginning their post-16 options choices. This compliments the work undertaken by Careers Wales.

– “Choices Events”- all Year 11 young people meet the full range of Pembrokeshire Post-16 education providers face to face in their Secondary Schools in the “Choices Events”. This enables them to get a better understanding of their potential learning pathways; they are further signposted onto options evenings.

– Year 12 AS level entry requirements have been reviewed and each school has revised its Year 12 entry requirements to ensure that learners have the appropriate ability to complete their courses.

Common Area Prospectus and Application Process (CAP). All Year 11 learners will apply for their post-16 education and training through the Welsh Government’s new CAP system from September 2015. This system will allow learners to view the full range of educational opportunities in the county, and will greatly contribute to tracking their progression through the post-16 transition process. This is similar to the UCAS university application process.

Speaking about finding solutions was Education Director, Kate Evans Hughes, who said: “It’s not the data itself but the conversations that follow. We are starting to work with parents too. If the parents’ aspiration is for higher education there are lots of pathways to higher education. This protects the children who are not high flyers.”

What is not certain, is whether the figures are merely a blip for one year, and many people in academia will hope that a cautious approach is taken to any school re-organisation based on such figures. As Jonathan Nutting of the Pembrokeshire Alliance said, when speaking about the figures: “I feel there could be several reasons. Maybe it’s just one of those blips that happen once in a while. I am confident that Kate Evans Hughes took note and will already be finding out more if she does not already have a handle upon it. Perhaps there is major economic pressure on schools, or a large number of year 12s became disaffected. They saw no job prospects at the end of their courses and they did not feel carrying on was worth it. This is possible.”

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Education

U-turn on compulsory lifesaving lessons in Welsh secondary education

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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.

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Education

Styling their way to the top

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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.

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Education

Senedd approves Wales’ National Curriculum

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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.

CURRICULUM CONTROVERSY

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.”

SCHOOLS GIVEN

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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